Archive for the ‘Assad’ category

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah

July 18, 2017

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah, Washington Times, Assad Hanna and Jacob Wirtschafter, July 17, 2017

Hezbollah supporters mourned their commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in an explosion last year in Damascus.

ISTANBUL — The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian government have enjoyed a close, fruitful relationship for nearly 40 years. But six years into the Syrian civil war, there are signs that battle fatigue and diverging strategic visions are fraying their alliance.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is coming under increasing pressure from pro-Russian factions in his ruling circle to dump pro-Iranian Hezbollah, as a U.S.-Russia accord to establish a de-escalation zone in southern Syria gets underway this week.

It’s a different kind of proxy war playing out in Syria: Instead of Sunni versus Shiite, or the U.S. versus Russia, it’s Russia versus Iran.

“There is a pro-Moscow faction that wants Syria to be secular and includes officers who trained in Russia,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, publisher of the largest anti-Assad Syrian news portal and leader of the country’s exiled Christian community based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “Those who support Iran are people bought by the Iranians or [who] reached their positions of power with Iranian help.”

Incidents of rivalry and strain between Hezbollah forces and Syrian government allies have been increasing since June 2016, when they openly clashed during what was supposed to be a joint operation in the Aleppo countryside.

Hezbollah has balked at implementing Russian-brokered cease-fire agreements, such as one in December in Aleppo, and occasional firefights have broken out between the two forces in the northwestern suburbs of Damascus on the road from the capital to Beirut.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has ordered aerial bombings of Shiite militia positions when Iran-backed forces interfered with plans to evacuate civilians to safe areas.

“The Hezbollah message has been: ‘Don’t think you can make a deal without us. We are on the ground, and we control what’s going on,’” said Ahmad Hardan, a 20-year-old ambulance driver from Aleppo detained by Lebanese Shiite fighters as he and his family fled their home.

“They took all the young men from the cars and drove us to the opposite side of the road. All those who tried to resist were killed,” Mr. Hardan said. “But suddenly there were Russian fighter jets in the sky, the Hezbollah troops started shooting in the air, and then they let the evacuation proceed.”

The situation is new for the two longtime Middle East allies. Hezbollah and the Assad regime have been close since the mid-1980s, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, became a patron of the Lebanese Shiite faction. He allowed Syria to be the transit point for Iranian weapons as Hezbollah armed itself against Israel and its domestic rivals in Lebanon.

The power dynamic reversed as the Syrian civil war turned into a sectarian bloodbath, with many Russian-trained Sunni officers deserting to the rebel side. Mr. Assad turned to Hezbollah for ideologically motivated and battle-tested reinforcements.

‘An Iranian pawn’

But over the years, Hezbollah’s role has been shrinking in Syria’s war, which began in 2011.

Nawar Oliver, an analyst at the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said Hezbollah’s estimated 10,000-member force in Syria is just one component that includes a 70,000-strong contingent of local Shiite militias deployed with Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani fighters.

“The number decreased from an apex of about 15,000 to 20,000 because Hezbollah started recruiting and funding local Shiite militias in order to pull back some of their troops from Syria,” said Mr. Oliver, pointing to more than 1,000 Lebanese battle casualties and a desire to prepare for a likely conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Moscow wants Mr. Assad to change the arrangement with Hezbollah and other Iranian-funded Shiite militias that give Tehran nominal control of the country in exchange for little direct supervision by the regime’s officer corps.

“The Russians have been pressuring the Syrian regime to integrate the militias it created since the inception of the uprising into its armed forces,” said Hilal Khashan, a politics professor at the American University of Beirut.

Command and control functions over Hezbollah fighters are directed by an officer corps drawn from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Hezbollah operates in Syria simply as an Iranian pawn,” Mr. Khashan said. “It uses Hezbollah as part of its scheme to establish a ground corridor from Iran to Lebanon. This is not something that sits well with the Russians, who are keen on limiting Tehran’s preponderance. Russia will not allow Iranian influence in Syria to become similar to Iraq.”

A tentative U.S.-Russia consensus on Syria seems destined to further strain the Hezbollah-Iran-Assad alliance.

Last month, the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar broadcast footage of what it said was an Iranian drone tailing an American drone over eastern Syria. The announcer’s voice-over included a warning that Hezbollah will strike at U.S. positions inside Syria if America crosses any “red lines.”

“Of course, there are no free lunches in this area,” said Mordechai Kedar, a former Syria desk officer for Israel’s military intelligence agency. “Hezbollah wants to take its share in what seems to be the division of Syria. Three things will be required to get them to leave: Assad’s army will have to regain its power and self-confidence, the Russians have to demand it and the Iranians have to consent.”

For the rebels and other anti-regime figures, it’s crucial that Hezbollah is forced out of Syria.

“Getting Hezbollah and the Iranians out is now our No. 1 priority,” said Mr. Abdul Nour, the anti-Assad news portal editor. “They want to convert all of Syria to Shiism, which is an ideology that [will lead to] them fighting with the majority of Sunnis in the country forever — and we don’t want that.”

Stephen Cohen on Tucker Carlson Praises Trump-Putin Meeting as Most Important Summit since World War II

July 8, 2017

Stephen Cohen on Tucker Carlson Praises Trump-Putin Meeting as Most Important Summit since World War II, American ThinkerPeter Barry Chowka, July 8, 2017

Tucker Carlson: Professor, the first thing you notice is just how much the press is rooting for this meeting between our president and the Russian president to fail. Why would they want it to fail?

Stephen Cohen: It’s a kind of pornography. Just as there is no love in pornography, there is no national interest in this bashing of Trump and Putin. As a historian, let me tell you the headline I would write instead, about what we witnessed today in Hamburg. “Potentially New Historic Detente Anti-Cold War Partnership Begun by Trump and Putin but Meanwhile Attempts to Sabotage It Escalate.”

I think what we saw today was potentially the most fateful meeting between an American and Russian president since the war time [WW II]. The reason is, is that the relationship with Russia is so dangerous and yet we have a president who might have been crippled or cowed by these Russiagate attacks on him, and yet he was not. He was, I think, politically courageous. It went well. They did important things. And this will be astonishing to be said, I know, but I think maybe today we witnessed President Trump emerging as an American statesman. I think it was a very good day for everybody.

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A familiar feature of Tucker Carlson’s nightly prime time Fox News channel program is for Carlson to debate – and usually one-up – a representative of the political left. On occasion, he has welcomed a liberal who seems to agree with or at least to buttress his own conservative position.  One such guest, who has been on the program a number of times in recent months, is Stephen F. Cohen, Ph.D., an American scholar and professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University. Cohen, 78, is an unabashed liberal. He is a contributing editor to The Nationaccording to Wikipedia “the most widely read weekly journal of liberal/progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis.” Since 1988, Cohen has been married to Katrina vanden Heuvel, the longtime, reliably left-of-center editor of The Nation.

On the occasion of President Trump’s first one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on July 7, Carlson welcomed Cohen as the second guest on his program the same evening. Cohen is “an actual expert on the subject and a Russian speaker,” Carlson noted in his introduction. In the 4½ minute long segment, the experienced and independent-minded Cohen shredded many of the arguments put forward by the “resist” commentators and academics who were quick to dump on the Trump-Putin meeting as they have similarly jumped on the unproven Russia-Trump-collusion bandwagon since it took off last fall.

The video of the Carlson show segment with Cohen is highly recommended viewing.

 

Some excerpts:

Tucker Carlson: Professor, the first thing you notice is just how much the press is rooting for this meeting between our president and the Russian president to fail. Why would they want it to fail?

Stephen Cohen: It’s a kind of pornography. Just as there is no love in pornography, there is no national interest in this bashing of Trump and Putin. As a historian, let me tell you the headline I would write instead, about what we witnessed today in Hamburg. “Potentially New Historic Detente Anti-Cold War Partnership Begun by Trump and Putin but Meanwhile Attempts to Sabotage It Escalate.”

You said I was an expert. I actually do have one expertise. I’ve seen a lot of summits, as we call meetings between American and Russian presidents. I was present at some, and even participated in the first George Bush’s summit preparation. When he met with Gorbachev, he invited me to Camp David to debate before his team.

In that context, I think what we saw today was potentially the most fateful meeting between an American and Russian president since the war time [WW II]. The reason is, is that the relationship with Russia is so dangerous and yet we have a president who might have been crippled or cowed by these Russiagate attacks on him, and yet he was not. He was, I think, politically courageous. It went well. They did important things. And this will be astonishing to be said, I know, but I think maybe today we witnessed President Trump emerging as an American statesman. I think it was a very good day for everybody.

In reply to Carlson’s follow-up question, Cohen noted:

You’ve got three major actors being demonized in America: one is of course Putin, second is Trump, but then the leader of Syria, President Assad, is demonized here.

Cohen went on to cite the major achievement of the Trump-Putin summit:

They formed an alliance and that means that we will side for now with Russia with Assad. That will be assailed in Washington because he’s [Assad] loathed in Washington almost as much as Trump and Putin.

Why is Assad so loathed, Carlson asked.

Cohen: When the Syrian civil war began five or six years ago, there were a lot of dirty hands in that mix, including American ones. Everybody was arming somebody. So we have a monstrous war going on there with so many groups being armed by so many different states. The thing about Assad for me has always been – and maybe this is parochial – but he has been the protector of the Jews, of the Christians, and of the non-Jihadist Islamic population in Syria – at a time when the main threat there, the Islamic State, ISIS, chops off the heads of these people. It seems to me that we should stick with Assad until we defeat these people [ISIS].

Cohen wrapped up his interview with these comments:

Focus if you will [on] something that both Trump and Putin said today. They said we are meeting, we have agreed, and we promise positive things to come. In other words, they have formed a political partnership and now it goes forward. But it will be viciously attacked and already is if you look at the press today here.

When I set out to write this article, I didn’t intend to transcribe and quote so much of the Carlson-Cohen interaction. But once I got started, it was hard to know when to stop. Cohen, in my opinion, illustrates his impressive intellect and communications skills by filling the entire time given to him – only about 3½ minutes total when Carlson’s three questions are subtracted – with eminently quotable comments.

LISTEN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes questions in off-camera news briefing

July 7, 2017

LISTEN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes questions in off-camera news briefing, PBS via YouTube, July 7, 2017

According to the blurb beneath the video,

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke and took questions at an off-camera news briefing on Friday after participating in talks with Russia at the G20. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also spoke briefly before Tillerson.

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding

June 29, 2017

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, June 29, 2017

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat.

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Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that the Syrian regime has drawn back from plans to conduct another chemical attack, following a warning by the Trump administration of serious consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces followed through with their plans. 

U.S. intelligence detected “active preparations for chemical weapons use” at the same air base from which the regime allegedly had launched its prior chemical attack last April that caused mass casualties. President Trump had responded to the April chemical attack with a barrage of cruise missiles targeting that air base. The White House issued its public warning to the Assad regime on Monday in unambiguous terms, declaring that Assad and his military would pay a “heavy price” if his regime conducted another chemical attack.

“It appears that they took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it,” Mattis told reporters.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went even further in crediting the Trump administration for stopping Assad at least for now. “I can tell you that due to the President’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Ambassador Haley claimed at a House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing. “I would like to think that the President saved many innocent men, women and children.”

It is difficult to prove what may have actually motivated Assad. In any case, whether Assad holds back for good remains to be seen. But we do know the Trump administration is watching constantly for any moves by the Assad regime that could signal an imminent chemical attack and has military assets in place to swiftly respond to such an attack, if not prevent one in the first place.

President Trump not only demonstrated last April that he would follow through on his threats if certain red lines of his were crossed, unlike our previous president. In addition to its warning, the Trump administration may have sent some concrete signals to the Assad regime that it means business this time as well. According to Debkafile, “Signs were gathering in Washington and the Middle East Tuesday, June 26 that the Trump administration was preparing a substantial military operation against the Syrian army and Bashar Assad’s allies, such as the foreign pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah. Some US military sources suggested that an American preemptive strike was in store in the coming hours to prevent Assad’s army from again resorting to chemical warfare against his people.”

Assad may still decide to launch another chemical attack, figuring that his key allies, particularly Russia, will continue to back him. No doubt, he took note of Russia’s stern response to the U.S.’s downing of a Syrian warplane earlier this month, including a warning from the Russian Defense Ministry that “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” The Syrian regime had also already taken some precautions by moving most of its operational aircraft to a Russian airbase in Syria after the April missile strike. The Russian airbase is protected by fairly advanced air defense systems. An American missile strike on Syrian aircraft located at a Russian air base would in all likelihood be seen as a major escalation of the war by the Russian government, risking a direct military confrontation between U.S. and Russia that the Trump administration may be loath to risk. As if to thumb his nose at the Trump administration’s latest threats by demonstrating the strength of his military alliance with Russia, Assad was seen strutting around a Russian air baseinspecting its aircraft and defense systems. He was even photographed sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

Indeed, Russia appears ready to raise the stakes to bolster the Syrian dictator’s regime. Debkafile reports that Russia is “building a new base in southeastern Syria,” which would “provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance.”

As Russia raises the stakes, the U.S. must be clearer than ever as to its strategic objectives in Syria, which it is willing to back up with military force even in the face of Russian threats.  We must do all we can to prevent getting sucked into Syria’s civil war, including by undertaking any military efforts at regime change. That said, we must repel any military action by the Syrian regime or its allies that would prevent us from prosecuting the war against ISIS, which remains our number one objective until the ISIS sanctuaries, infrastructure and leadership are for all intents and purposes destroyed.

However, we also cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s chemical weapons program continues to pose. The Obama administration had thought that it had largely eliminated the threat “diplomatically,” when it reached a phony deal with Russia to oversee the removal and destruction of the Syrian regime’s declared chemical weapons. The opportunity for cheating was all too plain to see, except by Obama and his clueless Secretary of State John Kerry. We are now seeing the consequences. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Syria’s chemical program remains intact.

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat. The transfer of chemical or biological weapons to terrorist hands would represent the most dangerous outcome of the Syrian conflict to the rest of the world, including to the United States. That is why we must monitor where we believe Assad’s remaining chemical weapons and production facilities are located, prevent them from being used or even moved from known locations, do all that we can to keep them out of the hands of the terrorists and destroy the chemical weapons and production facilities when the opportunity presents itself.

Northern border heating up

June 27, 2017

Northern border heating up, Israel Hayom, Ofek Ish Maas, June 27, 2017

(Please see also, After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel.– DM)

In the past few days, the Syrian civil war has been knocking on Israel’s door. On Saturday, 10 errant mortars and tank shells landed in the northern Golan Heights, and at the beginning of the week the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported a few more ordnance hits in open areas.

In accordance with policy, the IDF responded by firing at Syrian army targets. But although tenuous quiet has been restored, we cannot discount the possibility that errant fire from Syria will continue and increase.

The army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was responsible for the errant fire, is trying to block an attack by rebels, who want to break through and reach the highway that leads from Damascus to the southwestern city of Daraa, which has been the site of heavy fighting for control of southern Syria over the past month.

Since the beginning of June, Daraaa has been subjected to massive bombing by the Syrian regime and its allies. Hundreds of barrel bombs and rockets and dozens of bombs from Syrian and Russian planes have rained down on the city. According to rebel reports, some of the bombs even included phosphorus. Among other things, in an attempt to deter the rebels, the regime intentionally attacked a school in a nearby village, killing more than 20 women and children who had sought shelter there. The worsening situation led the local government to declare Daraa and its surroundings a disaster area.

Daraa, which lies about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of Israel and 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Syria’s border with Jordan, is a strategic target for the Syrian regime. First, control over border crossings in a symbol of sovereignty and the implementation of Assad’s desire to once again control all of Syria. Second, the regime and its Shiite allies want to reduce the chance of a sustainable security buffer zone under Western, Jordanian, and Israeli influence being established in southern Syria. Assad’s forces reaching the Jordanian border would stop the supply of logistic, military, and humanitarian aid Western and Persian Gulf nations are sending the rebels and would create a divide between the two rebel-controlled areas in southern Syria.

With a goal so important to the regime, and with the increasingly serious stand-off between the U.S., Russia, and Iran in eastern Syria threatening any chances of a peace deal in the south, it appears that nothing is stopping Assad from proceeding full force.

The ramifications for Israel’s security could be heavy. In the short term, if we see a repeat of the images out of Aleppo at the end of 2016 — women and children slaughtered, buildings collapsing with people inside, the use of unconventional weapons against civilians — there will be waves of displaced persons, some of whom might seek shelter along the border, in Israel’s shadow, and even ask for asylum. In the long term, Israel’s northeastern front could become a stronghold of Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias that would comprise a threat to security and safety in northern Israel.

Israel must decide how it will prepare to prevent these dangerous scenarios. It must choose between increasing support for the Sunni rebels as a buffer against Iran and its satellites, or assenting through silence to Assad returning to power. If Israel wants to stick to the idea of a buffer zone, it will have to increase support for the rebels and provide them with defense coverage, both diplomatic, against Russia, and military, in hope that the U.S. will agree. But diverting American attention to southwestern Syria will hamper its efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the east and prevent Iran from filling the ensuing vacuum. Israel, therefore, would have to roll up its sleeves and plunge its hands into the Syrian mess. On the other hand, if Israel is unwilling to do so, it will have to set clear rules of engagement for the Assad regime, which is regaining ground, by demanding that Iranian satellites not gain a foothold in the region and backing that demand up with military action.

In any case, neither option is certain and each has its risks. But the reality in Syria, especially in the south of the country, is changing fast, and the comparative security that Israel has been enjoying is in danger and requires immediate planning and responses.

Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer) is a research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies.

Memo Signed By Assad Transfers Command And Financial Responsibility For Syrian Militias To Iran

May 16, 2017

Memo Signed By Assad Transfers Command And Financial Responsibility For Syrian Militias To Iran, MEMRI, May 15, 2017

Throughout the Syria war, Iran has played a central role in establishing the Syrian militias operating alongside the Syrian regime’s regular army and army reserves. These militias are modeled after the Iranian Basij.[1]Recently, a memo was circulated on Facebook ostensibly proving that the Syrian regime is transferring command and financial responsibility for some of these militias to Iran – reflecting the extent of Iran’s control in Syria.

The memo, which is dated April 11, 2017 and bears the signature of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his capacity as commander in-chief of the Syrian armed forces, approves the recommendations of a committee responsible for regulating the activity of the armed Syrian forces operating in conjunction with Iran on Syrian territory.

The committee’s recommendations included a call for organizing the nearly 90,000-man-strong armed Syrian forces working in conjunction with Iran under an umbrella framework called the Local Defense Brigades, to operate across Syria under Iranian command and financial responsibility, “until the end of the crisis in Syria or until further notice.”

In addition to the Syrian regime’s consent to Iran’s increasing control in Syria, the memo also reveals the Syrian regime’s difficulty in commanding and funding the local militias, and the grave manpower crisis in the Syrian armed forces throughout the years of the war stemming from the high desertion rate, as well as a widespread unwillingness among draftees and reserve soldiers to be sent to the battle front. According to the information in the memo, of the 88,723 fighters said to be included in the Local Defense Brigades that will be in Iranian hands, half have evaded military service: 14,783 are evading mandatory military service, 16,731 are evading reserve duty, and 8,003 are deserters. The regime has given up trying to draft these men into the army, and instead is trying to draft them into the local militias, where duties are less rigorous because fighters are stationed near their homes. The other half are volunteers, as well as individuals whose “status has been arranged,” that is, who have been given the option to serve in the militias in lieu of being punished for refusing to serve in the military.

On May 2, 2017, a photo of the memo was posted on the Facebook page of the Manjab Tribe Brigade, Ra’d Al-Mahdi, a Syrian militia established recently with Iranian help and operating in the service of the Syrian regime. The text accompanying the photo of the memo shows that the brigades welcome the move and consider it an improvement in their conditions. Likewise, this Facebook page, as well as a pro-regime Syrian news website, published a photo of another official Syrian document that refers to the memo and the transfer of the Syrian militias to Iranian responsibility.

It should be noted that several days after the date on the memo, on May 1, 2017, a Syrian military delegation headed by Syrian Chief of Staff Ali ‘Abdallah Ayyoub visited Iran, and met with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for Coordination Jamaluddin Aberoumand to discuss increasing military cooperation.[2]

The following is a translation of the main points of the two official Syrian documents.

As noted, on May 2, 2017, the Facebook page of the Manjab Tribe Brigade, Ra’d Al-Mahdi published a photo of the memo, which is which is marked “No. 1455” and addressed to “the Honorable Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces and President of Syria.” It states: “With Allah’s help, we will not disappoint you, heroes of Ra’d Al-Mahdi. We have promised and we have kept [our promise].”[3]

The memo states further: “[This is] in accordance with the decision of the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister [Fahd Jassem al-Freij]… to establish a committee headed by the director of [the Syrian military’s] Organization and Administration Department responsible for arranging the forces operating in conjunction with Iran as part of the Local Defense Brigades in the [various] districts, and to publish its recommendations. The committee met several times and examined and discussed every aspect of the matter: organization; command; the supply of military and material needs; the rights of fallen, wounded and missing [fighters]; and arranging the status of draftees, [including] those evading mandatory and reserve service, deserters, and civilians working with the Iranian side. The following are the committee’s conclusions:

“1. The Syrian operatives (civilians and military personnel) who are fighting alongside the Iranian side are to be incorporated in the Local Defense Brigades in the [various] districts as per to the following list:

District Mandatory service evaders Reserve duty evaders Deserters Civilians Persons whose status has been arranged Total in district Comments
Damascus 4106 4824 600 9485 601 19616
Deraa 421 359 658 857 0 2295
Tartus 321 0 0 679 100 1100
Homs 980 1124 1127 4314 1506 9051
Hama 2144 2654 2549 3915 864 12126
Aleppo 3925 5687 1213 10241 4864 35930
Idlib 1123 211 279 2929 3487 8029
Ladhakia 790 302 477 3165 700 5434
Al-Raqqa 214 235 148 220 0 817
Deir Al-Zor 461 870 0 645 0 1976
Al-Hasakah 388 465 952 554 0 2359
Total 14873 16731 8003 37004 12122 88723

 

“2. The status of the army members (deserters) and the draftees who are evading mandatory army service and reserve duty should be arranged, and they should be transferred [to the Local Defense Brigades in their district], and it should be established that these brigades will summon them [for service]. Men whose status has been arranged and who are working with the Iranian side are to be incorporated in the Local Defense Brigades as well, as per the following list:

Explanation No.
Mandatory service evaders 14873
Army deserters 8003
Reserves duty evaders 16731
Persons whose status has been arranged 12122
Total 51729

 

“3. Civilians working with the Iranian side who want to volunteer [to the militias] are to be incorporated in the Armed Forces – Popular Army[4] on a two-year volunteer contract, regardless of the volunteer conditions that are implemented in the armed forces… The contracts should be renewed with the agreement of both sides, as per the following list:

“- Civilians working with the Iranian side – 37,004

“4. The Administration of Officers’ Affairs will be in charge of arranging the status of the 1,650 members of the Class 69 graduates among the officers working with the Iranian side in Aleppo district.”

  1. The Local Defense Brigades in the districts that are working with the Iranian side will remain under the command of the Iranian side until the Syria crisis ends or until further notice, in coordination with the Army and Armed Forces General Headquarters.
  2. Ensuring the supply of all fighting gear and meeting all material needs of the Syrian army personnel and civilians working with the Iranian side will remain the responsibility of the Iranian side after they are incorporated into the Local Defense Brigades in the districts, in coordination with the relevant parties.
  3. Guaranteeing the material rights of the fallen, wounded and missing [fighters] who worked with the Iranian side from the beginning of the [Syria] events will be the responsibility of the Iranian side…”

Syrian Chief of Staff Ali ‘Abdallah Ayyoub and Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij approved the memo by appending their signatures to it on April 5, 2017, and Assad, in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces, signed it on April 11, 2017.

Official Syrian Document: Do Not Arrest The Elements Working With The Iranian Side

Likewise, both the Facebook page of the Ra’d Al-Mahdi Brigades and the pro-regime Syrian news website Dp-new.com posted a photo of another official Syrian document, referring to the abovementioned memo concerning the transfer of the Syrian militias to Iranian responsibility. This supports the memo’s authenticity.

The document is a letter sent by Gen. ‘Adnan Muhriz ‘Ali, head of the Organization and Administration Department, on behalf of Syrian Chief of Staff ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Ayyoub, to the Ministry of Internal Security, General Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Intelligence Directorate, Political Security Directorate, Criminal Security Department, Immigration and Passport Administration, and the Military Police. The letter said: “As per the decision of the Commander in Chief of the Army and Armed Forces regarding Memorandum No. 1455 of April 4, 2017 and the decision of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Deputy Prime Minister and the Defense Minister regarding Memorandum no. 1681 of April 21, 2017, we instruct you not to arrest [army evaders and deserters] working with the Iranian side who hold temporary documents [identifying them as members] of the Local Defense Forces, until their status is arranged…”[5]

 

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[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1242, Syria Regime Establishing Popular Armed Militias Modeled On Iranian Basij, April 25, 2016.

[2] SANA (Syria), May 2, 2017.

[3] Facebook.com/mammer1987, May 2, 2017.

[4] According to reports, the Popular Army was established in 2012 and comprises well-trained and organized fighters, many of them members of the Ba’th party. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 4, 2012; alrai.iq, November 30, 2016.

[5] Facebook.com/mammer1987, April 30, 2017.