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Is Russia exploiting Iranian weak spot in east Syria?

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Jan 27, 2021

ALEPPO, Syria — Iranian forces and their allied militias in Deir ez-Zor province in jap Syria have lately carried out new redeployment and repositioning operations to restrict their losses within the occasion of Israeli airstrikes towards their websites within the space. Their motion included transferring to new army websites and headquarters, hiding weapons and eradicating flags from the roofs of army websites and barracks in addition to relying extra on native members to protect army websites. Some armed formations additionally partially withdrew from their websites, whereas the households of members have been transferred to different areas.

The greatest problem dealing with the Iranian forces now’s to take care of their cohesion in Deir ez-Zor and its countryside, because the violent suspected Israeli bombing that focused their websites on Jan. 13 has pushed many members to flee their headquarters and army websites. This prompted the Iranian forces to accentuate patrols searching for defectors – primarily Syrian nationals who had been working with the Iranian-backed teams – and arrest native members who didn’t be part of the army barracks after the airstrikes ended. 

Meanwhile, different members have been accused of serving to a bunch of officers to defect. What most worries the Iranian forces in Deir ez-Zor appears to be the growing circulate of defectors towards armed formations supported by Russia within the space, most notably the Fifth Corps, which formally introduced its institution on Nov. 22, 2016.

Firas Allawi, journalist and editor-in-chief of Alsharq News Network, which screens information in Deir ez-Zor and jap Syria, informed Al-Monitor, “Dozens of members of the Iranian formations from Deir ez-Zor province left their sites after the Jan. 13 airstrikes, many of whom have chosen to join the Fifth Corps.”

Allawi added, “The Iranian forces are intensifying patrols in search of defectors across Deir ez-Zor province to limit [defections] that worry the leadership of the Iranian forces and directly affect its influence. They have already arrested dozens of fleeing operatives and some of them have been charged with inciting their colleagues to leave the ranks of the Iranian formations.”

It appears that Russia will profit from the presumed weak spot that the Iranian forces are experiencing in Deir ez-Zor. The Russian-backed Fifth Corps appears to have turn out to be the go-to faction for these defectors. This could also be a possibility for Russia to develop on the expense of the Iranian forces within the strategic Deir ez-Zor province.

The province is especially vital for Russia as a consequence of its proximity to the border with Iraq and its huge underground wealth, together with oil. 

It appears that Russia had already began taking steps to develop its affect in Deir ez-Zor at the tip of 2020, i.e., earlier than the Jan. 13 airstrikes towards Iranian positions within the province. 

Allawi famous, “More airstrikes against the Iranian forces in Deir ez-Zor may weaken them and lead to their collapse because many of their local members will defect since they are not willing to die in their headquarters defending Iran. Their [the members’] best option to get protection and money is the Fifth Corps.”

Sheikh Rami al-Doush, a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, who’s from Deir ez-Zor, informed Al-Monitor over the cellphone, “The Iranian forces and their affiliated militias in Deir ez-Zor province feel a threat that menaces their presence and influence due to the recent targeting of their sites, as well as Russia’s competitive [moves] toward them.”

Political science researcher Mohammed Adeeb, who lives within the countryside of Aleppo, informed Al-Monitor, “The Iranian-Russian competition in Deir ez-Zor is constantly escalating, and it is natural for Russia to take advantage of the state of weakness that Iranian forces are going through in the area after being directly targeted. Russia has also benefited from the alienation and fear of the Iranian forces and their militias among the popular circles there, which are afraid of cooperating with them or allowing their sons to join their ranks, as the popular circles in Deir ez-Zor prefer Russia over the Iranian forces.”

Bilal Sattouf, a political science researcher from the countryside of Aleppo, informed Al-Monitor, “The Russian-Iranian relationship in Syria is based on competition, not conflict, and this competition is focused on attracting recruits as the two parties share overlapping areas of influence. Both sides employ several tools in managing this competition, and Russia may exploit the Israeli attacks on Iranian militias in eastern Syria to attract militia members, without this indicating a Russian desire to completely remove Iranian influence from eastern Syria. Russia is indeed trying to preserve the Iranian presence, but only in a way that serves its interests and policies. So I believe that this Russian-Iranian polarization in eastern Syria will not imply a conflict between the two sides.”

Obadah al-Tamer, deputy dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences on the International Sham University within the countryside of Aleppo, informed Al-Monitor, “Russia may wish to compete with Iran over some of its influence in Syria for its own interests or for reasons related to the [policies] of the new US administration. During the meetings between [former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov] in 2016, Russia was given the green light [to expand its actions] in Syria, with US consent. This meeting was followed by a series of events aiming to balance the Russian role in Syria. If the Joe Biden administration adopts that same vision, Russia might try to limit the Iranian role in Syria. However, Iran may try to exploit the negotiation process over the nuclear issue to achieve gains in Syria, especially in central and eastern Syria.”

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