DAMASCUS, (BM) – Shiite militias have provided serious military support to the Syrian regime since 2012, when the country turned to them for help. The Iranian leadership played a key role in organizing and recruiting these forces from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and some Asian countries with Shiite populations under the banner of resistance.
In exchange, they were usually offered sums of money, although there were other incentives, such as citizenship. Lebanese Hezbollah has become a leading force intervening in the conflict on the side of the regime and in close coordination with Iran. After that, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani and Yemeni groups entered the arena, the preparation of which the Iranians were engaged in.
As a result, the regime’s forces regained control over many areas of the country, especially in southern Syria, bordering Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, and the above formations were located on strategic highlands and intentionally created centers to replenish their ranks from among young volunteers. This forced countries like Russia and Jordan to put forward the idea of forming a “stability army” in Deraa to counter Shiite militias.
Map of Iranian Presence in the South
Iran has penetrated deep into the southern Syrian provinces such as Al Quneitra and Deraa, where it commands large armed forces, especially in the Al Lajat region. This militia, according to researcher Dia Kaddur, has about 14 military bases in Deraa, near the Syrian-Israeli border in El Quneitra and in the western regions of Damascus.
And this is despite the Russian-Israeli agreement allowing the army of the regime to regain control of southern Syria to the borders with Israel, and withdraw Iranian forces and Hezbollah 80 kilometers from the Israeli border as a temporary step, while the Israelis request for the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria will not be fully satisfied. In July 2018, the regime and the opposition entered into an agreement, and in this situation the militias were forced to change their strategy.
They began recruiting youth using a whole arsenal, including monetary incentives and protection. In addition, they set up a security headquarters under the Fourth Division, which receives direct support from Iran, to recruit young people. In exchange for monetary compensation and exemption from military service, they join the ranks of military units loyal to the Iranians. They also recruit leaders of opposition armed groups based in Deraa. Fearing for their lives and not wanting to take up compulsory service, sometimes youth illegally flees to Lebanon, in which Hezbollah also helps her in exchange for up to two thousand dollars per person.
According to estimates by the Syrian network for human rights, the country has from 15 to 20 thousand Iraqi fighters, about 7-10 thousand members of the Lebanese Hezbollah, and from 5 to 7 thousand Afghan and Iranian militias. However, according to other estimates, the number of Shiite militias can reach 80 thousand people.
On the other hand, local detachments also formed, creating their military bases in strategically important areas, serving as centers for managing operations. Among them is the “Shiite Brigade 313”, formed exclusively from residents of the province of Deraa. It conducts operations along the international route towards the city of Deraa to the Nasib checkpoint and ensures the security of the supply route from Damascus to the Brigade 34 near El Masmiyah in El Lajat.
Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq al-Iraqiya and Hezbollah militias captured a number of villages in Al Lajat, razed them and destroyed about 650 houses on an area of more than 30 square kilometers. They turned this region into a military base of foreign militias supported by Iran. In addition, they captured the headquarters of military units loyal to the Syrian army, including the commanders of the ninth division in the city of Es-Sanamein, the fifth division in Azraa, as well as on the strategic heights of Tel al-Khar and Tel al-Shaar.
“The son ceases to obey his father”
In July 2018, Russian troops faced resistance when they escorted the 11th division of the Syrian army to withdraw Hezbollah units from their positions in the city of El Quseir in the countryside of Homs. This plan, which was not agreed with Iran or Hezbollah, implied the restoration of Syrian control over the Dzhusiya checkpoint on the border with Lebanon and the advancement to the El-Kalamun region. Hezbollah forces refused to leave their positions.
As a result, Russian and Syrian forces left the area less than 24 hours after arrival, after which Hezbollah strengthened its presence in the city of Al Quseir. This small incident, perhaps, was intended to assess the reaction of Iran, and as it became obvious, Moscow may be powerless in front of the Iranian troops in southern Syria. Or it is a reluctance to use military pressure to force them to leave these areas.
At present, it seems that Israel and Jordan are admitting the presence of the Syrian army in the south. Although it is no secret that pro-Iranian forces have infiltrated the Syrian army, it does not seem to bother the two neighboring countries until all forces associated with Iran distance themselves from the Syrian army and go to basing areas in the eastern and western areas north of Deraa. This is taking place against the backdrop of pressure from the Russian troops after completing their mission to support regime operations in southern Syria.
Russia has shown an inability to oust Iranian troops. As for the thesis that after his victory, Assad will begin to oust Iran from the country, the return of his forces to the south proves the opposite. An important step towards achieving Tehran’s long-term goals is the presence of Syrian forces as a point of contact between Hezbollah and other forces so that they can deploy forces in this region at any time.
The fact that Shiite militants will remain in Syria indefinitely may be part of the demographic change process launched by the regime and Iran. Their goal is to devastate the cities and replace the indigenous population with the Shiite community. As the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on January 16, 2019, Iran will maintain a military presence in Syria despite Israeli threats.
Army created secretly to strike Iran
After the conclusion of an agreement between the leaders of the Syrian Free Army and Russia in July 2018 on the transfer of areas in the south to the regime’s forces in exchange for the preservation of light weapons (heavy surrendered), opposition groups were distributed in the eastern part of Deraa. We are talking about the city of Busra al-Sham under the control of the former commander of the Kuwat Shabab Sunnah Ahmed al-Avda, the city of Nasib under the leadership of the former commander of the Jaish al-Yarmouk, Imad Abu Zureyk, in Dera al-Balead under the leadership of Colonel Abu Muntera al-Dahni. In the west of Deraa, in the city of Tafas, the situation is controlled by Abu Murshid al-Burdan, the head of Jaish al-Saura.
Sheikh Faisal Abazid, head of the Reconciliation Committee in the city of Deraa, told Sasapost that in July 2019, a meeting was held in Amman, the capital of Jordan, between the leaders of the Syrian Free Army residing in Jordan, people from Turkey, Russian intelligence officers and Jordanian intelligence. The participants put forward the idea of creating forces in the south under the name “Army of Stability.”
According to him, Russian officers offered to return the leaders of the Syrian Free Army to their cities and villages in Deraa, where they were based before the fall of the province, provided that they would fight Iran in the south, receiving financial and logistical support, including cars and other vehicles, medium and light weapons, and, of course, monetary rewards for faction leaders.
Abu Ghazi, a former Kuwat Shabab Sunna formation commander, told Sasapost that Rakan Al-Khudair, leader of the Jaish al-Ashair faction, met with Major General Ali Mamluk, Syrian Vice President of Security and former Director of the National Security Bureau responsible for coordinating Syrian intelligence services.
They agreed to form a new faction in southern Syria called the Army of the South, whose stated goal is to establish control over the villages and cities of the provinces of Deraa and Al Quneitra and fight against Iranian influence in the area. Meanwhile, an undeclared, but much more important goal, according to private sources, is to get ahead of the Russians working on the creation of the “Stability Army”.
Sheikh Faisal criticized the idea of such a formation. In his opinion, countries want to fight Iran with the hands of the people of Deraa. He said: “Anyone who wants to confront Iran must take his allies and fight with him. I advise young people not to join this formation. The head of the Syrian regime brought Iran to Syria, and he is a puppet in the hands of Russians, and Tehran has always stated that he came at the request of the Syrian authorities. Russia, having political and international weight, was able to invade Syria and impose its interests both domestically and abroad. She’s capable of withdrawing Iranian forces with a single phone call to the Iranian government, and for this it’s not necessary to create an army.”
Even after Suleymani’s death, Iran has a plan
After the leak of information about plans to create an “Stability Army” in southern Syria, Iran began to actively operate in this region. According to Sheikh Ali al-Gabsha, Iran has divided all its forces, including the fourth, third, fifth and ninth divisions. Many meetings and meetings took place, which were initially led by Kassem Suleimani, the former Al-Quds commander of the IRGC. They were held throughout the week in the city of Jabab in the north of Deraa, where Rashid Abdel Hadi and Murtada al-Hussein were present.
These meetings spoke of the need to create a new formation loyal to Iran from the inhabitants of southern Syria. It was supposed to be called “Islamic Resistance”, include only Shiite fighters from four provinces and report directly to the IRGC. It was supposed to recruit hundreds of young people.
According to Mahdi Bazi, a recent member of the Islamic Resistance, Abu Ali al-Hiraki, a Lebanese citizen and member of the Hezbollah political bureau, Murtada al-Hussein, a Shiite from Deir Ez-Zor province and a similar member, were responsible for its creation. the political bureau of the movement, Munir Shagenani, a member of Hezbollah responsible for the situation around the Golan Heights, and Rashid Abdel Hadi, a Shiite from Deir Ez-Zor.
Bazi emphasized that since the death of Kassem Suleimani, the number of volunteers in Iran-supported units has increased. After the regime took control of the region in February, 4,500 volunteers joined them. Another 500 people joined the ranks from 2012-2015, and are from Shiite families in the province of Deraa.
What will the current military preparations lead to?
According to the media expert, the government and the Syrian army control the southern part of Syria, but the region and the outskirts of the Golan are under the control of Iranian Shiite militias and Russian forces, according to media expert Fayez al-Duweiri. The presence of pro-Iranian militias and Hezbollah on the Jordanian border means that Jordan could be the target of attacks, which poses a military threat to the country.
Not so long ago, namely on April 5, 2019, militias formally subordinate to the Syrian regime and calling themselves “People’s Resistance in the Eastern Region” announced a missile strike against US forces. The next day, the Liva al-Bakir militia loyal to the Syrian authorities issued a statement declaring jihad against US forces in Syria and their allies.
It is alleged that these two groups have ties with Iran: the Al-Bakir Brigade is subordinate to Tehran more than Bashar al-Assad, while the People’s Resistance is also an Iranian formation. As these and other examples demonstrate, Shiite militants, allegedly loyal to the Syrian regime, are in fact obeying the orders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, posing a great threat even to the interests of the United States and its allies.
The events a few days before the U.S. authorities announced the assassination of Kassem Suleimani, as well as after what happened, indicate the determination of the United States to put an end to the Iranian presence and dream of a land route connecting the capitals of Iran, Lebanon and Syria. In other words, in the future we will witness an increase in tension between the Americans and Iranians in the Syrian arena, even if this issue has faded into the background due to the coronavirus epidemic, which promises Syria new difficulties after nine years of conflict.
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Editorial team / Inosmi
The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.