Israeli Air Force
(illustrative) The Israeli Air Force has reactivated 116 Squadron as the second unit to fly the F-35 on Jan. 16.(Photo: Israeli Air Force)

For the first time since Iran entered Syria with thousands of troops and militia fighters, the Islamic Republic is reducing its forces and clearing out from bases in the war-torn country, a senior defense source said Tuesday.

Iran has been one of the Syrian regime’s main allies in the war that has ravaged Syria since 2011, sending thousands of militia fighters and equipment to the war-torn country and continues to insist that it is in Syria as a guest of Damascus and would only leave at its request. 

Though it was once seen as an asset which was key to keeping the regime in power, according to a senior defense source, Iran has become a burden for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which is paying increasingly heavy prices due to its presence on its territory.

Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as aspirations of regional hegemony and has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of its “war-between-wars” (known as MABAM in Hebrew) campaign to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against Israel.

“We are determined, more determined, and I will tell you why – for Iran, Syria is an adventure 1,000 miles from home, but for us it is life,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday. “Iranian soldiers who come to Syria and act there are endangering their lives. They are risking their lives and will pay with their lives. We will not give up nor allow the establishment of a forward Iranian base in Syria. “

According to a 2018 report in Foreign Policy, Iran has 11 bases around the country, another nine bases for their militia forces in southern Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Ezzor as well as another 15 bases belonging to Hezbollah.

Despite the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, in late March Israel’s Defense Minister said that the country’s war-between-wars campaign against Tehran was continuing. But not only did it continue, according to foreign publications the airstrikes significantly intensified-both in geographical scope and intensity.

Almost on a weekly occurrence foreign publications are reporting airstrikes- from the Golan Heights on Israel’s northern border to deep inside Syrian territory like Al Bukamal on the Iraqi border to Aleppo in the country’s north on Monday night which reportedly targeted The Scientific Studies and Research Center which Western intelligence say Syria, with the help of Iran, is working on developing chemical weapons.

In the past four months, Israel has been accused of dozens of strikes. While in the past Israel was accused of targeting weapon convoys which arrived via Iraq, the strikes over the past few months are targeting Iranian infrastructure and presence on the ground.

Not only have the strikes killed dozens of Iranian troops and destroyed an immeasurable amount of advanced weaponry, over the last six months Iran has also significantly reduced the number of cargo flights into Syria which are used to smuggle weapons into the war-torn country.

“Israel will intensify pressure on Iran until it leaves Syria,” the senior defense source said Sunday,

According to Foreign Policy, Iran has spent over $30 billion and lost over 2,000 troops in Syria- both Iranian and militia forces that Tehran recruited from across the Middle East and central Asia.

In February Bennett told The Jerusalem Post after years of a steady campaign to remove Iran from Syria, he aimed to remove the Islamic Republic from the war-torn country within 12 months.

“I have placed a goal that within 12 months Iran will leave Syria,” Bennett told The Jerusalem Post during an interview earlier this week ahead of Israel’s fourth elections. “Iran has nothing to look for in Syria, they aren’t neighbors, they have no reason to settle next to Israel and we will remove Iran from Syria in the near future.”

During his tenure as Defense Minister, he has been working to escalate Israel’s steps against Iranian forces in Syria with the aim of Tehran to withdraw all of its troops from Israel’s northern borders.

Later that month he announced that Israel had recognized initial signs that Iran is recalculating their trajectory in Syria, giving the Jewish State an opportunity to go from the defensive to the offensive.

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