Ex-IDF intelligence chief Yadlin: I don’t buy that Iran is leaving Syria

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/ex-idf-intelligence-chief-yadlin-i-dont-buy-that-iran-is-leaving-syria-627084

Syrian President Bashar al Assad visits Syrian army troops in war-torn northwestern Idlib province, Syria, October 22, 2019 (photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran is not leaving Syria despite some reports to the contrary, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said on Wednesday.

Speaking to a media briefing hosted by MediaCentral, Yadlin, who currently is executive director of INSS, said, “the Iranians are not leaving. I am not buying this argument.”

Rather, he suggested that the forces led by Iran in Syria have always included a mix of actual Iranians and militias made up of local Syrians, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiites, Pakistanis and Afghans, and at most might see an adjustment in the mix.

Questioned about why the IDF would put out a statement on Tuesday that Iran was reducing its presence in Syria if this is not true, Yadlin responded, “I didn’t hear the IDF. I heard a high-level source in the defense establishment. My suspicion is it came from above the IDF political level. When you go to the political level, you need to ask someone whose is an expert in politics.”

Pressed if he was referring to outgoing defense minister Naftali Bennett, the former IDF intelligence chief responded, “I think you connected the dots of who is leaving the defense ministry soon, and what is the legacy he wants to leave behind.”

Explaining why Iran will not leave Syria, he said that Syria is, “the only Arab country which supported Iran’s war with Iraq [in 1980-1988]. Ties between Iran and Syria are strong strategically. Iran sees Syria as the cornerstone of its regional policy.”

Continuing he said, “it was very important for Iran to keep the Syrian regime alive. In the words of Qasem Soleimani – protecting Tehran starts in Damascus.”

He said that, “Iran also wants to be very close to us [Israel]…in terms of kilometers…while they are 1,500 kilometers away from us. Nothing has changed regarding Iran’s strategic goal.”

Next, he said that, “Iran is always adaptive…They try to cope. At different times we saw Iran having more forces, less forces and different forces in Syria due to the conditions on the ground.”

He recounted how when the Assad regime started to win against ISIS in tandem with the Us and Russia, that Soleimani, “thought this was a huge opportunity to transform Syria into an Iranian base to attack Israel. His plan was to have airports, bases, naval bases, lines of logistics, advanced ballistic missiles, UAVs – everything to enable attacking Israel from Syria.”

However, he said that Israel discovered the plan and “started to attack Iranians in Syria during the term of four defense ministers. It started before Bennet started. With Moshe Yaalon, Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu and then Bennett.”

He added that most of this time, the attacks were under the leadership of former IDF chief Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot. “They were able to stop 70-80% of what Soleimani wanted – this is not new.”

Moreover, he said that two years ago IDF air force chief Amir Eshel spoke of a massive volume of attacks, such that, “it was not because of attacks in the last few weeks that Iran decided to leave.”

Rather, Yadlin said that Iran is still present with commanders in Syria and that at most it had altered the mix of low-down foot-soldiers so that more of them are Shiite militia groups and there are fewer low-down actual Iranians.

Even this, Yadlin attributed to years of attacks and more recently the power of the US maximum pressure campaign and of the coronavirus it making it more financially difficult to send foot-soldier Iranians to Syria.

A spokesman for Bennett declined to comment.

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