Two strikes in Syria last week attributed to Israel targeted Iranian forces with deadly effect. But according to some analysts, in the face of Russia increasing its military presence and US/Israel cooperation to keep Iran out of Syria, Iran is disguising its militia as Syrian army troops and massing them on the border with Israel.
TWO AIRSTRIKES IN ONE WEEK
A series of eight drone attacks in eastern Syria just before midnight on Saturday night killed 12 pro-Iranian militiamen. The attack reportedly targeted M’eizileh base in eastern Deir Ezzor. 30 vehicles carrying Iraqi and Afghan militia fighters had crossed into Syria from Iraq just three days earlier to reinforce the Iranian base in Syria. The convoy also carried substantial amounts of ammunition and logistical equipment.
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Israel was likely responsible.
The drone strike comes directly in the wake of an airstrike on Thursday evening in Hama in west-central Syria. The airstrike carried out with air-to-ground missiles targeted four factories manufacturing short-range surface-to-surface rockets linked to the Syrian army’s Military Industries Complex. The site is run by Syria, Iranian forces are present at the site.
At least nine Iranian-backed forces, five other individuals and four Syrian citizens were killed in the attack. Air defense systems were activated in Masyaf, west of Hama and loud explosions were heard in the region during the airstrikes. The official Syrian news agency SANA reported that a number of the incoming missiles were intercepted.
A site belonging to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) involved in the production of chemical weapons is located in Masyaf and has been targeted by Israeli airstrikes in the past.
In July 2019, satellite images released by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat Intl (ISI) showed the complete deployment of four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems in Syria’s Masyaf province, underscoring the effectiveness of strikes that overcame the system.
These strikes come at a time when international tensions in Syria are rising. Debka File, an Israeli English-language military intelligence website, reported that Israel and the US are cooperating in an effort to prevent Iran from establishing a strong military presence in the region.
“The campaign is roughly governed by a division of labor between the US military, which takes care of Iran’s incursions and buildup in eastern Syria around its Iraqi border, and Israel, whose air force is routinely identified by Syrian media as singling out Iranian and Hizballah targets in the western regions and in southern areas around its own border. This policy is unchanged by new Defense Minister, the Alternate PM Benny Gantz.”
RUSSIA INCREASING ITS MILITARY PRESENCE IN SYRIA
At the same time, Russia is increasing its military focus. The Russian military recently acquired land around the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia and territory inland appropriated for adding to the Russian sea base at the Mediterranean port of Tartous in order to expand those facilities.
VOA News reported that two weeks ago, Russian officers reportedly met with local residents and discussed the possibility of building a new military base on Syria’s border with Turkey and Iraq. Russia has also acquired rights for the use of the Qamishli airport, the territory currently controlled by the Kurds which is not far from US bases in northeastern Syria
In addition to boots on the ground or supporting proxy forces, Syria’s SANA news agency reported on May 30 that Russia handed over to Syria of a squadron plus of Russian MiG-29 fighter jets that began flying missions almost immediately.
ANALYSIS: IRANIAN TROOPS IN DISGUISE ON ISRAEL’S BORDER
Yochanan Visser, a Middle East analyst and reporter, wrote an analysis in Israel National News concerning the interplay of Russia and Israel in Syria. Visser noted that Russia has, so far, refrained from exercising its ability to shoot down Israeli warplanes over Syria. Visser quoted Dmitry Danilov, head of the European Security Department of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). According to Danilov, Russia perceives both Israel and Syria as allies.
“For us, Israel is as much a partner in international relations, including in the Middle East, as is Syria,” Danilov said, suggesting that Russia “is falling in a trap because it’s difficult to respond to certain Israeli actions.”
In his analysis, rather than back down from this multi-super power threat, Iran changed tactics, merging 53,000 Iranian-backed militia members into the army of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Though it appears that the Iranian military is not in Syria, they are “still present along the border with Israel wearing Syrian army uniforms.”
Citing Syrian sources, Visser said that “the Iranians and their allies have set up camp right next to the Israeli border disguised as Syrian soldiers and using Syrian army vehicles in an attempt to avoid Israeli strikes.”
“The Russians are aware of this development and attend meetings by the General Syrian staff but didn’t lift a finger to stop the deployment of Iranian troops along the Israeli and Jordanian border.”
“Hezbollah is, furthermore, exploiting the situation in southwestern Syria by smuggling drugs to Jordan. Drug traffickers who have been arrested have been released from jail after Hezbollah intervened and bribed local Syrian government officials.”