Archive for the ‘Iran – Syria war’ category

Russia Constrains Iran

June 4, 2018


Poster showing Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin
(ABNA News – Iran)

BY Amb. Dore Gold June 3, 2018 VIA Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Source Link: Russia Constrains Iran

{Iran is like the house guest who never leaves, only worse. – LS}

In an astounding series of statements, Russia has made it clear that it expects all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria. Alexander Lavrentiev, President Putin’s envoy to Syria, specified on May 18, 2018, that all “foreign forces” meant those forces belonging to Iran, Turkey, the United States, and Hizbullah.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added this week that only Syrian troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border, close to Jordan and Israel. Previously, Russia had been a party to the establishment of a “de-escalation zone” in southwestern Syria along with the United States and Jordan. Now, Russian policy was becoming more ambitious.  Lavrov added that a pullback of all non-Syrian forces from the de-escalation zone had to be fast.

The regime in Tehran got the message and issued a sharp rebuke of its Russian ally. The Iranians did not see their deployment in Syria as temporary. Five years ago, a leading religious figure associated with the Revolutionary Guards declared that Syria was the 35th province of Iran. Besides such ideological statements, on a practical level, Syria hosts the logistical network for Iranian resupply of its most critical Middle Eastern proxy force, Hizbullah, which has acquired significance beyond the struggle for Lebanon.

Over the years, Hizbullah has become involved in military operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Without Syria, Iran’s ability to project power and influence in an assortment of Middle Eastern conflicts would be far more constrained. Syria has become pivotal for Tehran’s quest for a land corridor linking Iran’s western border to the Mediterranean. The fact that Iran was operating ten military bases in Syria made its presence appear to be anything but temporary.

Already in February 2018, the first public signs of discord between Russia and Iran became visible. At the Valdai Conference in Moscow, attended by both Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (and by this author), the Russian Foreign Minister articulated his strong differences with the Iranians over their pronouncements regarding Israel: “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests.”

Iran was hardly a perfect partner for Russia. True, some Russian specialists argued that Moscow’s problems with Islamic militancy emanated from the jihadists of Sunni Islam, but not from Shiite Islam, which had been dominant in Iran since the 16th century. But that was a superficial assessment. Iran was also backing Palestinian Sunni militants like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. This May, Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, told a pro-Hizbullah television channel that he had regular contacts with Tehran.

Iran Supports both Shiites and Sunnis

Iran was also supporting other Sunni organizations like the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It harbored senior leaders from al-Qaeda. Indeed, when the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought a regional sanctuary after the fall of Afghanistan to the United States, he did not flee to Pakistan, but instead, he moved to Iran. There is no reason why Iran could not provide critical backing for Russia’s adversaries in the future.

But that was not the perception in Moscow when Russia gave its initial backing for the Iranian intervention in Syria. In the spring of 2015, Moscow noted that the security situation in Central Asia was deteriorating, as internal threats to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan were increasing. On top of all this, the Islamic State (IS) was making its debut in Afghanistan. An IS victory in Syria would have implications for the security of the Muslim-populated areas of Russia itself.

It was in this context that Russia dramatically increased arms shipments to its allies in Syria. It also coordinated with Iran the deployment of thousands of Shiite fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). That also meant the construction of an expanded military infrastructure on Syrian soil for this Shiite foreign legion.

At the same time, Russia maintained and upgraded a naval base at the Syrian city of Tartus and an air facility at the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia. Moscow also had access to other Syrian facilities as well.

Russia Achieved Its Main Goal and Changed Its Policy

What changed in Moscow? It appears that the Kremlin began to understand that Iran handicapped Russia’s ability to realize its interests in the Middle East. The Russians had secured many achievements with their Syrian policy since 2015. They had constructed a considerable military presence that included air and sea ports under their control in Syria. They had demonstrated across the Middle East that they were not prepared to sell out their client, President Bashar Assad, no matter how repugnant his military policies had become – including the repeated use of chemical weapons against his own civilian population. The Russians successfully converted their political reliability into a diplomatic asset, which the Arabs contrasted with the Obama administration’s poor treatment of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. However, now Iran was putting Russia’s achievements at risk through a policy of escalation with Israel.

The Russian security establishment appeared to understand from the start that Israel’s strategy in Syria was essentially defensive. For example, Israel wanted to prevent the delivery of weapons to Hizbullah that could alter the military balance in its favor. One feature of Russian military policy at a very early stage was the carte blanche Moscow appeared to give Israel to strike at these weapons deliveries and later at Iranian facilities across Syria.

According to one report, a Moscow think tank, closely identified with President Putin, published a commentary blaming Iran for the deteriorating situation between Iran and Israel in the Syrian theater. The Sunni Arab states, which Russia was courting, were also voicing their concerns with growing Iranian activism. Undoubtedly, the Russians noticed the complaints that came from Tajikistan this year that Iran was seeking to destabilize the country by funding militant Islamists.


Russian President Putin meets with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami in 2015 (Kremlin)

Putin seemed to have growing reservations about Iran’s policy of exporting the Islamic revolution from the soil of Syria. Now, with IS fundamentally vanquished, Iranian military activity in Syria lost its primary justification. And if Moscow was considering to more closely coordinate its Middle Eastern policy with Washington in the future, it needed to adjust its approach to Iran.

On May 22, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed aspects of Iranian activism which the United States was now demanding that Iran halt. It was not surprising to see in Pompeo’s list the demand that “Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety [of] Syria.”

Russia is not cutting its ties with Iran. But it is clearly cutting back Iran’s freedom of action in Syria. The idea that Russia would back Iran’s use of Syria as a platform for operations against Israel or Jordan is not tenable. Still, Russia would remain the primary supplier of Bashar Assad’s army in Syria as well as his strategic partner. Unquestionably, Iran would need to reassess its Middle Eastern strategy after Moscow’s pronouncements calling for it to leave Syria and not continue to be perceived as the force that put at risk all that Russia had achieved as a result of the Syrian civil war.

Iran Wants to Stay in Syria Forever

June 2, 2018

Russia and Israel are ramping up pressure on Iran to withdraw. But Tehran is intent on recouping its investment of blood and treasure.


A Syrian man holds the Iranian flag as a convoy carrying aid provided by Iran arrives in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor on Sept. 20, 2017. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

BY BORZOU DARAGAHI | JUNE 1, 2018 VIA Foreign Policy

Source Link:
Iran Wants to Stay in Syria Forever

{Iran is making a big mistake.  They should cut their losses and stop throwing good money after bad.  Of course, they won’t.  Their hate for Israel transcends the very well-being of their own people and will only serve to be their undoing.   – LS}

Hamid Rezai was among the latest batch of soldiers to die for Iran in Syria, killed by an alleged Israeli rocket attack on the T4 airbase near Homs. He was a 30-year-old native of the capital, Tehran, a pious young man whose father had also been a soldier and who left behind an infant daughter. At Rezai’s late April burial service, his weeping mother said there was no stopping him from volunteering to fight in Syria. “It offends me when people ask, ‘Why didn’t you stand in his way?’” she said, according to an account in the hard-line Mashregh News. “My son chose his own path.”

Rezai’s death added to the more than 2,000 Iranian military deaths in Syria since Tehran began pouring troops and tremendous amounts of resources into the country to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad from an armed uprising. Israel is pressing Russia, the main powerbroker in Syria, and other international players to get Iran to leave Syria, threatening more strikes on Iranian positions near its border at the Golan Heights or anywhere inside the country should it remain. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed Iran’s withdrawal from Syria as one of 12 preconditions for removing sanctions after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal last month.

But Iranian officials and other experts say the country has invested too much blood and treasure — upwards of $30 billion to date — to fold to international demands, regardless of Israeli airstrikes, or even Moscow’s pressure. Having already made such a massive investment, Iran is determined to reap the potential long-term strategic rewards Syria has to offer — even if it comes at the expense of more lives and money in the short term.

“I don’t think Iran is willing to abandon its presence in Syria,” said the editor of a leading Tehran news outlet, who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity. “It gives Iran good leverage against Israel. The ground is very important, and Iran is very skillful at managing the ground — the one area where even Russians are weak. The one who has control of the ground doesn’t take seriously those who don’t.”

Iran insists it is in Syria at the behest of Damascus and will only leave at its request. “As long as necessary and as long as terrorism exists there and the Syrian government wants us to do this, Iran will maintain its presence in Syria and will offer its contribution to the Syrian government,” said Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, according to the BBC.

Assad said in a Russian TV interview this week that there have never been Iranian troops inside Syria. “We have Iranian officers who work with the Syrian army as help,” he said. “But they don’t have troops.”

Iran, along with its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, originally intervened in Syria to defend a regime that had long been its loyal ally at a time when much of the world had written off Assad as another casualty of the Arab Spring uprisings. Over the last seven years, the Iranian investment in Syria has escalated to billions of dollars in military and economic pursuits, sometimes intertwined. Iran has recruited and trained militia recruits from across the Middle East and South Asia deployed to Syria, and provided for the families of those killed. According to calculations by Mansour Farhang, a United States-based scholar and former Iranian diplomat, Iran has spent at least $30 billion on Syria in military and economic aid. The estimates by Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East scholar at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, are even higher, at $15 billion a year and some $105 billion in total. Either figure would be politically controversial at a volatile moment when Iranians at home are demanding accountability and fiscal prudence.

“They’ve made so much economic and political investment,” Farhang said. “It’s very difficult for them to pick up their bags and go home.”

Iranian forces currently operate out of 11 bases around the country, as well as nine military bases for Iranian-backed Shiite militias in southern Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Ezzor provinces as well as about 15 Hezbollah bases and observation points mostly along the Lebanese border and in Aleppo, according to Nawar Oliver, a military researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank in Istanbul.

Military analysts said Iran is already under Russian pressure to relocate troops and militias now in Syria’s south to Deir Ezzor, west of the Euphrates River. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week that Israel would strike against any attempt by Iran to “establish itself militarily” in Syria, “not just opposite the Golan Heights, but any place in Syria.” Former Israeli United Nations envoy Dore Gold insisted Netanyahu was not being hyperbolic, but meant the entire country. “From a clear military standpoint, Israel wants Iran out of Syria,” said Gold, now director of the Jerusalem Center, a think tank. “That means Syria within its boundaries.”

But Iran’s involvement in Syria goes beyond a conventional military presence, and it has already begun to plant there the seeds of its unique financial and ideological institutions. Along with about a dozen other Iran-linked organizations, the Iran-backed Jihad al-Binaa, the Islamic charitable foundation that financed and organized the reconstruction of southern Beirut after the 2006 summer war, is already working on large projects to rebuild schools, roads, and other infrastructure in Aleppo and other towns, as well as providing aid for the families of slain Iran-backed Syrian militiamen.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard general: ‘Resistance is the only way’

May 10, 2018

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS May 10, 2018 12:49

Source: Iranian Revolutionary Guard general: ‘Resistance is the only way’

{To this day, the Iranians are still playing the ‘proxy card’ by insisting the Syrians are the ones who attacked Israel with missiles. However, if Salami follows through on threats to attack Tel Aviv, Tehran will be fair game. So much for proxies. – LS}

Hours after Israeli strikes on Iranian military targets in Syria, which reportedly killed 23 people, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Force, said that “resistance is the only way to confront” Iran’s enemies, “not diplomacy.”

“Wherever Iran has confronted its enemies, it has advanced; we have gained our power through difficult battles,” Salami said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

While Salami’s immediate subject was the reports of European efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal following US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 agreement on Tuesday, his words also seemed to refer obliquely to the Israeli operation, which struck 50 Iranian targets in Syria after 20 rockets were fired toward Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights, according to the IDF. 28 Israeli fighter jets participated in the attack and Israel also fired more than 10 tactical ground-to-ground missiles, a Russian Defense Ministry statement quoted by Interfax news agency said.

European countries are powerless to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, Salami said.

Iranian media is portraying the confrontation as an unprecedented Syrian attack on Israel.

“Tens of Israeli military centers… came under attack,” reported the English website of the semi-official Fars News Agency, quoting Syrian media. “The Israeli Iron Dome defense shield has failed to intercept the rockets.”

Other Iranian media sources, including Mashregh News, Iranian Student News Agency, and others, have presented the events in similar terms.

Responding on Twitter to a CNN report on the Israeli strikes, Syrian Member of Parliament Fares Shehabi denied that Iranians had launched the rockets against Israel.

Fares Shehabi MP @ShehabiFares

The Syrian army (not Iranians) launched 50 rockets (not 20) to several Israeli army targets in the Golan, and most rockets hit their targets.

Fares Shehabi MP @ShehabiFares

It is time we strike back at Tel Aviv and not only at the occupied Golan Heights!

The Syrian army (not Iranians) launched 50 rockets (not 20) to several Israe

Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, IDF spokesperson Brig-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that none of the 20 rockets fired from Syria had struck Israeli territory.

“Iron Dome intercepted the rockets. There are no injuries and no damage was caused to IDF positions,” Manelis said.

Manelis also clarified that Israel had targeted Iranian forces in Syria.

“The Quds Force paid a heavy price last night. We have seen a demonstration of the IDF’s intelligence and airpower capabilities.”

Jubeir: Saudi Arabia will seek nuclear weapon if Iran does

May 9, 2018


Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made the statement during his interview with CNN. (Al Arabiya)

AFP Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Source: Jubeir: Saudi Arabia will seek nuclear weapon if Iran does

{Iran’s list of enemies grows longer. – LS}

Saudi Arabia will seek to develop its own nuclear weapons if Iran does, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN on Wednesday, amid spiraling tension between the regional rivals.

Asked whether Riyadh would “build a bomb itself” if Tehran seizes on Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran deal to resume a nuclear weapons program, Jubeir said: “If Iran acquires nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same.”

Saudi Arabia has long said it would match any Iranian weapons development, but Jubeir’s renewed vow came after US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of an accord designed to prevent Tehran’s alleged quest for the bomb.

And it came amid growing tension over Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been firing rockets across the border.

Riyadh, which is part of a regional coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war to fight the Houthis, accuses Iran of supplying the militia with ballistic missiles.

“These missiles are Iranian manufactured and delivered to the Huthis. Such behavior is unacceptable. It violates UN Resolutions with regards to ballistic missiles. And the Iranians must be held accountable for this,” Jubeir told CNN.

“We will find the right way and at the right time to respond to this,” he warned. “We are trying to avoid at all costs direct military action with Iran, but Iran’s behavior such as this cannot continue. This amounts to a declaration of war.”

 

Following Threat from Iran, Israel Strikes Syrian Position in Response to Spillover Fire

April 24, 2018

by TheTower.org Staff | 04.23.18 5:36 pm

Source Link: Following Threat from Iran, Israel Strikes Syrian Position in Response to Spillover Fire

{How dare Israel interrupt Assad while he’s busy killing more of his citizens. – LS}

Following a threat from an Iranian general to destroy Israel, the IDF targeted a position of the Syrian army, a client of Iran, after spillover fire landed in Israel, The Times of Israel reported Monday.

According to the IDF, a mortar landed near Israel’s border fence with Syria following a skirmish between the Syrian army and rebel groups in the area. Israel then targeted a Syrian artillery cannon which was in the general area where the mortar was fired from.

A statement from the IDF said, “The IDF sees the Syrian regime as responsible for every action in its territory and will not tolerate violations of the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its citizens.”

The latest limited clash between Israel and Syria comes in the wake of a threat against Israel by Iran, the patron of Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad.

On Saturday, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander of Iran’s army, threatened that Iran’s regular army and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) would combine to “annihilate” Israel within 25 years, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agencyreported.

“When the arrogant powers create a sanctuary for the Zionist regime to continue survival, we shouldn’t allow one day to be added to the ominous and illegitimate life of this regime,” Mousavi said while addressing a ceremony in Tehran.

Though he echoed a prediction about Israel’s destruction articulated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s first in 2015 and reiterated in 2016, Mousavi explained that Iran’s military will continuously be working towards that goal until then.  “The Army will move hand in hand with the IRGC so that the arrogant system will collapse and the Zionist regime will be annihilated,” he added.

On Friday, IRGC Lieutenant Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami made similar comments, threatening that if war broke out between Israel and Iran, “you can be assured that it will result in wiping you off, the smallest target is your existence, there is no smaller target than that.”

Salami’s language closely mirrors a threat that Israel “must be wiped off the earth,” which was written on a ballistic missile that Iran tested two years ago.

Iran has ratcheted up its rhetoric against Israel since an airstrike against an airbase in Syria, where Iran had personnel and advanced weapons. Seven Iranian military personnel were killed in the airstrike, which has been attributed to Israel. One, an IRGC colonel, was reportedly in charge of Iran’s drone program. In February, a drone launched from the airbase, known as T-4, penetrated Israeli airspace, before being shot down. Last week, Israel announced that the drone was loaded with explosives and was meant to carry out an attack on Israeli soil.

Israel tries to balance Iran strategy between Trump and Putin

October 17, 2017

Israel tries to balance Iran strategy between Trump and Putin, DEBKAfile, October 17, 2017

(Please see also, Iran Plays Chess, We Play Checkers. — DM)

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, on October 17, 2017. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90 *** Local Caption *** יד ושם
רוסיה
שר ההגנה הרוסי
סרגיי שויגו
שר הביטחון
אביגדור ליברמן
ראש הממשלה

The Israeli defense minister is due to fly to Washington Wednesday, Oct. 18, for talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat goes on ahead to meet his US counterpart Gen. H.R. McMaster.

However, as seen from Moscow – and possibly Jerusalem too – the Trump administration is more to blame than any other actor operating in the Middle East for Iran’s deepening grip on Syria, US actions starkly contradicting the president’s fiery rhetoric against the Islamic Republic and all its actions.

***********************************

Israel’s leaders stressed to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu the importance of thwarting Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. But can’t expect much from Moscow – any more than Washington.  

Visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu heard Tuesday, Oct. 17, from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman that Israel would not stand for Iran and Hizballah making Syria their forward operational base against Israel, and would act to prevent their military entrenchment along the Syrian-Israeli border.

This was not news to the Russian minister, on his first visit to Israel since his appointment five years ago. The Kremlin has heard this mantra time and time and again and the visitor must have wondered what his Israeli hosts expected him to do. Both Shoigu and his boss, President Vladimir Putin, would also prefer not to see Iran dug deep militarily in Syria. So oddly enough, Moscow and Jerusalem could find a sliver of common ground for cooperating in both Syria and Iraq, but for their different viewpoints. While the Russians are practical enough to live with a strong Iranian military presence in Syria so long as it serves their interests, Israel is flatly against Iran or its proxies’ proximity to its borders as a grave peril to its national security.

The Israeli defense minister is due to fly to Washington Wednesday, Oct. 18, for talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat goes on ahead to meet his US counterpart Gen. H.R. McMaster.

However, as seen from Moscow – and possibly Jerusalem too – the Trump administration is more to blame than any other actor operating in the Middle East for Iran’s deepening grip on Syria, US actions starkly contradicting the president’s fiery rhetoric against the Islamic Republic and all its actions.

Since late September, the US has been drawing down most of its positions in eastern Syria, opening the door for Hizballah to walk in and for pro-Iranian Iraqi militias to take control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. This has made Tehran the strategic gift of its coveted land bridge to the Mediterranean.

Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on the day, Monday, Oct. 16, on which pro-Iranian militias under the command of a Revolutionary Guards general, Qassem Soleimani, swept the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk out of the hands of America’s allies, the Kurdish Peshmerga, a leading light in the US-led coalition for fighting the Islamic State.

If Trump meant what he said about beating down the Revolutionary Guards, why did he not stop them from taking Kirkuk?

In contrast to the Kirkuk debacle, the US-backed SDF Syrian Kurdish-Arab force said Tuesday that the Islamic State’s Syrian capital of Raqqa had fallen after a bitter four-month battle. The Kurdish YPG militia raised its flag over the municipal stadium and chanted victory slogans from vehicles driving through the streets.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that when word of the victory reached the White House, Brett McGurk, President Trump’s special envoy for the global coalition versus ISIS, set out from Washington to Raqqa

But that operation was the exception – not the rule. In Iraq, Washington stood by as the Revolutionary Guards called the shots against the Kurds.

For weeks, Moscow has been asking Washington to explain what it is up to on the Syrian and Iraqi warfronts and has come up empty. Israeli visitors are unlikely to fare much better when they put the same question to top Trump administration officials, even taking into account the profound difference in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington compared with Moscow and Jerusalem.

 

Moscow: US-backed SDF faces “destruction.” Pro-Iranian Iraqi force crosses into Syria

September 21, 2017

Moscow: US-backed SDF faces “destruction.” Pro-Iranian Iraqi force crosses into Syria, DEBKAfile, September 21, 2017

Israel’s strategic situation took several steps back in the first week of the New Year, chiefly: The US pulled back from E. Syria under Russian threat, allowing Iran to move in.

In just one week, the dire perils, which many military and political experts warned against for years, are suddenly looming on Israel’s northern border.

        1. From Sept.15-17, Syrian and Hizballah forces crossed the Euphrates to the eastern bank on pontoon bridges provided by Russia.
        2. Last Saturday, Sept. 16, Russian jets bombed the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) in the Deir ez-Zour region, as a warning against their obstructing the eastward impetus of those Syrian and Hizballah units.
        3. On Monday, Sept. 18, US Marines began blowing up buildings at the Zaqaf military base in eastern Syria and then retreating to the Jordanian border. The US set up Zaqaf early this year in the Syrian Desert as a barrier against this very Syrian/Hizballah crossing to impede their advance to the Syrian-Iraqi border.
        4. The following day, on the heels of the US withdrawal, Hizballah troops took charge of the Zaqaf base.
        5. On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the Iraqi Hashd Al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units – PMU) crossed into Syria and linked up with the Syrian-Hizballah force. The PMU is under the direct command of Gen. Qassam Soleimani, head of Iranian military operations in Syria and Iraq.
        6. Iran, through its Iraqi, Lebanese and other foreign Shiite pawns, is now in control of 230km of the Syrian border, from Abu Kamal (still held by ISIS) in the north, to Al Tanf in the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle in the south – where, too, US and coalition special forces have begun packing up ready to exit.
          Iran in recent years imported some 20,000 Afghan and Pakistani Shiite fighters to reinforce the Syrian army and Hizballah in their battles for Bashar Assad. The new Iraq arrivals boost that figure by tens of thousands and more are coming in all the time.
        7. On Thursday, Sept. 21, the growing disconnect between Moscow and Washington over Syria suddenly erupted into an open breach with a crude threat from the Kremlin: “Russia has officially informed the United States via a special communications channel that Russian forces will strike immediately US-backed forces if they attack or shell Syrian or Russian task forces operating near the Deir Ez-Zour city. Any attempts at shelling from the areas where the militants of the Syrian Democratic Forces are based will be immediately curbed. Russian forces will suppress firing points in these areas using all means of destruction.”

      A threat of this degree of ruthlessness has not been encountered in the Middle East for decades, it may recall Moscow’s threat to Israel in 1956 to end its invasion of the Sinai without delay or else…

      Where do these menacing steps leave Israel?

        • The US has washed its hands of central and southeastern Syria.
        • Russia is wholly, unreservedly and openly in lockstep with the Syrian army, Iran and Hizballah in all their objectives in the war-torn country, and moreover, willing to threaten any pro-American entity with total military punishment. Is this an indirect message to Israel too?
          Iraqi Shiite forces are surging into Syria; they have given Tehran the gift of control of a 230km segment of the border.

      And what does the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott have to say about all this?  In an interview to Israeli media as recently as Wednesday, Sept. 19, when it was all happening, he said: “If Iran  does entrench itself in Syria, that will be bad news for the entire region, including the moderate Sunni camp, and even more for the countries of Europe.”

He went on to explain: “That is why we have given the Iranian threat and halting its expanding influence very high priority as an issue to be dealt with.”

Gen. Eisenkott underlined the IDF’s focus as being to prevent [Israel’s foes] from obtaining weaponry, i.e. missiles – of high targeting precision.

The trouble is that, while the IDF focuses on this objective, commendable in itself, Russia and Iran are focusing and in full flight on a far wider-ranging goal, the precise and systematic deepening of Iran’s military presence in Syria. Iran and Hizballah have already established military commands at Arnaba just 6 km from Israel’s Golan border.

Yet the IDF chief is still talking about this as an untoward event that may – or may not – come some time in the future.