Manish Rai

Iran Revolutionary Guards holding Syria as a hostage

Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and his deputy General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi were killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus. This attack has raised the geopolitical temperatures of the whole region as this has led to Iran firing hundreds of missiles and drones toward Israel from Iranian territory. Gen. Zahedi’s death was the most significant killing of an IRGC commander since the United States assassinated Quds Force chief Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020. This is a major setback for Iran and IRGC’s network in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. But despite suffering significant losses from regular attacks of Israelis in Syria. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have a considerable presence in Syria and they are literally holding Syria as a hostage. The IRGC stepped in to defend Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013 when his grip on power was challenged during the civil war. But this was the only short-term goal of IRGC. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict one of the most important objectives of Tehran was to create the conditions for an encirclement maneuver of the Israeli state. To achieve that Iranians established impressive military capabilities in Syria.

With the military presence in Syria, Iran has cemented a zone of Iranian influence stretching through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the Mediterranean, helping to counterbalance Tehran’s regional adversaries including Israel. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) reportedly has deployed an estimated 2000 operatives in Syria alone. Moreover, Iran’s most trusted and valued proxy group Hezbollah’s bulk forces and allied militias have been deployed along the Lebanese-Syrian border. Hezbollah has also deployed fighters deeper into Syria, including around the cities of Damascus and Homs. There have been reports of Hezbollah fighters as far away as Deir al-Zour governorate in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. The revolutionary guards have numerous permanent bases in Syria and they house Quds Force personnel and the foreign Shia militias under its command. The Iranian installations in these bases include general headquarters, regional command and control centers, intelligence cells, UAV battalions and runways, weapons and heavy equipment depots, and other logistics facilities. In addition to this guards have multiple production plants in Syria that upgrade and produce rocket and missile arsenals for the Shia militia groups stationed in Syria, particularly those of Lebanese Hezbollah. This effort is part of a Quds Force campaign to ensure a steady supply of rockets/missiles to its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. These Iranian facilities and Shia militias operate largely autonomously from the Syrian government of Dr Bashar Al-Assad and take orders directly from senior commanders of the IRGC.

It was not that Israelis were keeping quiet when Iran’s revolutionary guards were strengthening their capabilities in Syria. Israel’s attacks against Iran-affiliated positions were occurring now and then. But the guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since October 7 since arriving nearly a decade ago. Especially since December last year, Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of their senior members, among them one of the guard’s top intelligence generals. Although the IRGC’s apparatus in Syria has been under immense pressure from Israeli airstrikes, Tehran is sticking to its mission of long-term presence in Syria. Iranians are just changing the tactics to operate like – most of the IRGC-QF operatives have left their offices and were staying out of sight. One thing is certain Iran has no intention of quitting Syria as it is a key part of Tehran’s sphere of influence.

The expanded presence of Iranians, especially in southern Syria, has already impacted Israel’s threat perception. As a result, Israel’s attacks against Iran-affiliated positions have been on the rise. Israel is playing an aggressive defence, determined to keep the Iranian threat out of its immediate neighbourhood in Syria. In case of being attacked from Syrian territory, Israelis have used disproportionate force to respond and additionally have also attacked the Syrian infrastructure and the civilian centers. Israelis are not buying this argument that Damascus has no control over the actions of the Iranian-backed militias operating in Syria. Tel Aviv holds the Syrian government responsible for any threat or attack emerging from Syrian territory. The people of Syria are paying the heavy price of this undeclared war between Iranians and Israelis. The common people have already suffered a lot because of the ongoing civil war and the last thing they require is another conflict in their country. Now it’s up to the Syrian government to decide whether they want to sit on the sideline as a spectator and let Iran drag their country into another conflict or to intervene and take charge. It is the moral obligation of the Syrian government to safeguard the country from getting stuck in this prolonged conflict between Israel and Iran. President Assad needs to ask his Iranian allies to spare his country and to take their fight against Israel somewhere else.

Source- NPA Syria

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)
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