Thursday, February 1, 2024

Iran’s Guards withdraw officers from Syria following Israeli strikes


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have made the decision to reduce the deployment of their senior officers in Syria following a series of deadly Israeli strikes. Instead, they will rely more on allied Shiite militia to maintain their influence in the region. This move comes as Iran aims to avoid direct involvement in the escalating conflict across the Middle East.

The Revolutionary Guards have been supporting President Bashar Assad in the Syrian war for the past decade. However, since December, Israeli strikes have resulted in the deaths of several Guards members, including a top intelligence general. As hard-liners in Tehran call for retaliation, Iran’s decision to withdraw senior officers is driven by its desire to avoid being dragged into a wider conflict.

While Iran has no intention of completely withdrawing from Syria, this strategic shift highlights how the consequences of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel are unfolding in the region. Iran, a supporter of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself but continues to support groups that oppose Israeli and US interests.

According to sources familiar with the matter, senior Iranian commanders have left Syria along with dozens of mid-ranking officers. The exact number of Iranians who have left could not be independently verified. However, it is clear that the downsizing of their presence is intended to help Tehran avoid being directly involved in the Israel-Gaza war.

Despite the reduction in senior officers, operations in Syria will still be managed remotely by the Guards with assistance from Hezbollah, an ally of Iran. The Lebanese group has not yet commented on this development. Those Iranian officers who remain in Syria have reportedly gone into hiding and are staying out of sight.

The downsizing of the Revolutionary Guards’ presence has not yet had an impact on operations. However, it is seen as a necessary step to protect Iran from further Israeli strikes. Israel has been conducting air strikes in Syria for years with the aim of rolling back Iran’s influence in the region. The recent strikes have targeted both the Guards and Hezbollah.

The Israeli military rarely comments on its attacks in Syria and has not claimed responsibility for the recent strikes. However, Iranian state media reported that five Guards members, including a general responsible for intelligence, were killed in a strike on January 20. Another strike on December 25 killed a senior Guards adviser. Concerns have been raised that information leaks from within the Syrian security forces may have played a role in these lethal strikes.

Iranian forces were invited to Syria by President Assad to help him regain control of the country from rebel groups. Despite Assad and his allies reclaiming most of Syria, Iran-backed groups continue to operate in the region. This has solidified Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, countering its regional adversaries, including Israel.

To compensate for the reduction in senior officers, the Guards are reportedly recruiting Shiite fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as relying more on Syrian Shiite militias. This echoes earlier phases of the war when Shiite militias played a crucial role in turning the tide of the conflict.

While the failure to protect Iranian commanders has undermined Iran’s position, it is unlikely that Tehran will completely withdraw its support for Syria. Russia, another supporter of Assad, has also deployed its air force to Syria and may benefit from any weakening of Iran’s role in the region. The relationship between Moscow and Tehran may become strained if they openly compete in Syria.

In conclusion, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back the deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to Israeli strikes. This decision is driven by Iran’s desire to avoid direct involvement in the escalating conflict across the Middle East. While Iran remains committed to its role in Syria, it will rely more on allied Shiite militia to maintain its influence in the region. The downsizing of the Guards’ presence aims to protect Iran from further Israeli strikes and prevent it from being dragged into a wider conflict.

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