What Is Iran Doing in Syria?
SOFIA, Bulgaria, Author: Ruslan Trad for Vesti.bg (BulgarianMilitary.com) – In Tehran, the political elite celebrated in front of multi-thousand crowds four decades from the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The end of over 2,500 years of monarchic tradition is one of the most significant dates in the history of Iran and the ayatollahs – successors of the ideologist of the Revolution, Imam Khomeini, wanted to do everything possible so that those forty years from the events from 1979 to be properly celebrated.
However, the celebrations were darkened. Iran is in a political crisis, and due to the international sanctions, the economy is under an enormous pressure. For keeping the attention of the public away from the daily problems, over the last years, the Iranian leadership has been looking at Syria, both as economic and political opportunity and for the goals of the propaganda. It was not by accident that the Supreme Leader Khamenei called for strikes on Israel, alluding to the tension between the Israelis and Iranians on the Syrian territory. The reply was not late – massive Israeli strikes hit Iranian positions in southern Syria and in particular in the Syrian Governorate of Quneitra. The message from the point of view of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clear – Iran shall stay away from the borders of Israel.
The leaders in Tehran do not think of leaving the strikes to seriously damage the military equipment, located in Syria. That is why Iran has started moving its logistical centres from the international airport in Damascus to a military airbase, situated far away from the Syrian capital city. In particular, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that is responsible for the Iranian forces in Syria is moving armouries to the strategic base T4, located in the Syrian Desert between Homs and Palmyra. Although the Israeli forces have attacked that base at least twice, Tehran hopes to perform its operations more easily there thanks to the distance and the stronger defences.
The decision about that is connected with the latest attacks of the Israeli Air Force in the region of the Damascus Airport. Since years the airport has been used by the Revolutionary Guards of Iran as a major point where weapons are delivered. From there those weapons are allocated to Lebanon, where the organization of Hezbollah takes them over. Due to that Israel has attacked many times the region of the airport over the last several years. These attacks cast a shadow between Iran on the one hand and the regime of Assad and Russia on the other as they undermine the efforts of Moscow to impose the suggestion that the Syrian government has stabilized. The air-force defence, however, often cannot deter the Israeli aircraft, and the Russian forces avoid interfering.
The elite Al-Quds Brigades, led by Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and which are part from the Revolutionary Guards, have at their disposal own depots within the airport itself at only several tens of meters from the international terminal, through which civilians pass. Israel claims that the Iranian operations are also performed by passenger flights.
The Damascus Airport is the largest civilian airport in Syria, though the traffic has decreased a lot after the outbreak of the war. A building, known as the “Glass House”, is located in close proximity to the terminal and is built to serve as a hotel. During the last years that building has been used as headquarters, from where Iran performs logistic operations in Syria and in the direction of Lebanon. The access to the building is strictly limited, and nearby there are warehouses and two underground bunkers, which should serve as aircraft protection in case of an attack. Presently, these bunkers house units of the Al-Quds Brigades.
According to information of Israeli media, aircraft of the Iranian companies “Mahan Air” and “Fars Air Qeshm” have been used for transfer of weapons and missile materials from Iran to Syria and Lebanon. The U.S. Government sanctioned the two companies on the suspicion that they participate in unregulated flights and for connections with the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Earlier this year, when on 11th January Israeli strikes hit targets near the airport of Damascus, the radars detected a flight of “Mahan Air”, which was not officially announced – military experts think that exactly through similar aircraft, under the disguise of civilian flights, Tehran sends military equipment to the regime in Syria and its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah. On 29th January there were again strikes on the airport in Damascus.
It is not only Israel that worries about the offensive of Iran in Syria. The military supplies question the Russian promise to Israel that it will keep the Iranian presence at least 80 km from the border area. Although Moscow have recently said that actually this promise does not include the region of Damascus (the airport is 50 km from the border), the Russian command is nervous. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Russian President Vladimir Putin has had several long conversations over the last two months during which it has been discussed exactly the situation with the Iranian presence in Syria and the desire of Israel to strike as heavier as possible the positions of Tehran without disturbing by this the Russian interests. The last series of attacks on the airport in Damascus, some of which performed in broad daylight and documented by the international media, has created embarrassment among the pro-Assad circles in Syria. The lack of clarity about what is coming and how the situation will reflect on the relationships between Iran and Russia – the major allies of the regime of Syria – has evoked passionate debates between followers of Assad and even criticism has been levelled that due to Iran the strikes may lead to civilian victims. Israeli media has announced that Netanyahu will have a meeting with Putin in Moscow on 21st February. The major topic will be Iran, and Israel does not think of stepping back, which will lead to even bigger tension in the region.
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