Stopping Iranian Entrenchment in Syria: Time to Lower Expectations

(Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University) Brig.-Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel - There are currently a few hundred Iranian officers and about 20,000 Shiite militia fighters in Syria, operating under the command of the Iranian Quds Force, according to the outgoing head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heyman. Former Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani sought to create a friction zone with Israel along its northern borders, including the Golan Heights. When Iran began to set up military deployment and facilities on the Golan front, Israel responded with determination and prevented Iran from gaining a military foothold close to its borders, while disrupting Hizbullah efforts to build terror cells in southern Syria. After ten years of war in Syria, Iranian forces have reduced visibility while infiltrating the fabric of civilian and religious life in the country. Iran has set up dozens of centers in Syria which organize economic, religious, educational, and cultural activities and dispense humanitarian aid and medical services, and has established financial institutions, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo. Tehran seeks to avoid conflict with Russia and has responded to Moscow's demand to pull back its proxies - mainly the Shiite militias, but not Hizbullah - from southern Syria. Instead, the Iranians have recruited over 10,000 local residents and organized them into dozens of local militias operating under Iranian command and with Iranian training. Militia members are sometimes used to collect information and attempt to carry out terror attacks against Israel on the Golan Heights. At the same time Iran is reinforcing its foothold in eastern Syria, deploying its proxies and equipping them with advanced weapons, as a launchpad for seizing control of the area and the Iraq-Syria border once the U.S. withdraws its forces. The writer, former head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division, is Managing Director of INSS.

2022-01-24 00:00:00

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