Israel and Jordan Cast Wary Eye toward Syria

(Christian Science Monitor) Taylor Luck - Russia pledged to both Israel and Jordan that security arrangements for southern Syria would keep Iranian forces 70 to 80 km. from their borders. Israel and Jordan took that pledge to include Iran's proxies, especially Hizbullah. But one year later, Hizbullah has become increasingly entrenched in the area. "Russia promised that the Iranians and militias would be driven out from southern Syria, and Russia did not deliver the goods," says Ely Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel. According to security sources, Hizbullah has 7,000 to 10,000 forces across Syria, with another 8,000 to 12,000 Shiite fighters loyal to Iran from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen that coordinate with it. But the sources say Hizbullah's presence in southern Syria has grown dramatically - with 1,000 fighters in the Daraa region near Jordan and in Quneitra, facing Israeli forces on the Golan. Former Free Syrian Army rebels who have returned to their hometowns in southern Syria after an amnesty agreement with the regime say Hizbullah is effectively "governing" several towns and villages. Hizbullah and Shiite militias patrol areas dressed as uniformed Syrian regime forces in order to avoid being hit by Israeli airstrikes, they say, and deploy former rebel fighters to patrol areas and provide intelligence directly to the Iran-backed group. "Either you answer to Hizbullah, or you leave," says Abu Mohammed, a former rebel. Multiple Syrians also report their homes and entire neighborhoods have been taken over by Shiite militias and their families - part of a planned "demographic change" in the south.

2019-08-13 00:00:00

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