Taking advantage of Ukraine war, Iran’s terror-patron regime is expanding deployment of Iranian forces in Syria while Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis are being asked by Tehran to increase stocks of weapons and explosives and intensify attacks on “enemy targets” [Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia]. On April 7, 2022, London-based Saudi-funded newspaper daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsar asserted that Iran is taking advantage of the fact that Russia is currently occupied with its war in Ukraine to expand its influence in Syria and to deploy weapons and local and foreign forces who are loyal to it, mainly in the center and the northeast of the country.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iran-backed militias, among them Hezbollah Lebanon, the Afghan Fatemiyoun, the Iraqi Al-Nujaba movement and Asaib Ahl Al-Haqq, and the Syrian Al-Baqer Brigade recently reinforced about 120 locations and military bases east of Homs in the desert regions of Hama, Al-Raqqah, Deir Al-Zour and the Aleppo Governorate with approximately 4,500 soldiers, rocket launchers, heavy weapons, drones, and communications equipment. Furthermore, they recently took control of the strategic Mahin storage facilities east of Homs, following the extension of their influence at the Al-Nayrab military airport in the Aleppo district, and also established training bases for Syrian volunteers who joined the ranks of the Iran-backed militias.
According to the article, at the beginning of the year senior officers of the Syrian Armed Forces and the Iranian IRGC agreed to establish 11 command centers to be headed by officers and specialists from both bodies in the desert region of Homs and east of Hama. Following the agreement and the establishment of the command centers, the Iran-backed militias and the forces from the Syrian 4th Armored Division began to deploy in those areas, and this coincided with the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian forces from several military positions east of Homs.
The Russian forces have also recently departed from their positions near the Mahin storage facilities and handed them over to the IRGC and Hezbollah Lebanon who brought additional reinforcements of large numbers of operatives, heavy and medium vehicles, and communications equipment and intelligence-gathering systems which are manufactured in Iran. In addition, positions manned by the Syrian 4th Armored Division east of Palmyra and in the Al-Kawm and Al-Taybah region were reinforced with Kornet anti-tank missiles.
The daily notes that according to “operatives in the Aleppo district,” during the second week of April, “The Iranian militias were granted control of additional sections of the Al-Nayrab military airport east of the city of Aleppo and compelled the owners of 32 houses adjacent to the airport to evacuate their homes for “security reasons.” According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, large forces from the Palestinian Liwa Al-Quds, the Afghan Fatemiyoun, the Syrian Al-Baqer Brigade and Hezbollah, alongside those of the IRGC, are deployed in these areas of the Aleppo district.
Moreover, according to the newspaper, on March 27, 2022, Iran transferred ten Iranian Muhajir drones from its storage facilities in Palmyra, east of Homs, to a new base established for the drones in the Al-Tebni area, southwest of Deir Al-Zour. Later, a drone-operation training facility was established in the area which was subsequently designated a closed military area. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat further reports, according to a “source in the Homs district,” that Iran and Hezbollah Lebanon currently control the strip which extends for 300 kilometers, at a width of 120 kilometers, through the Qalamoun Mountains and the Arsal area, adjacent to the Syria-Lebanon border, as far as the governorates of Hamat, Homs, Deir Al-Zour, and Al-Raqqah and the territories east of Aleppo.
The report also states that “Syrian operatives” maintain that the IRGC has recently established a new militia called Fajr Al-Islam (the Dawn of Islam), led by Iranian officers, which is comprised of Elite Forces operatives from the militias of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, the Al-Nujaba movement, Hezbollah Lebanon, pro-Iran Alawite forces and young Syrian Shi’ites. The sources say that the militia’s role is to provide security for Iran’s military storage facilities in Hamat, Homs, Aleppo, Deir Al-Zour, Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah, east of Homs.
The daily also writes that according to “sources in the Latakia area,” in mid-March of this year a delegation of Iranian military and economic experts visited the Syrian coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus, in order to establish “Iranian economic and investment initiatives” at Latakia Port to justify the return of Iran to this port so that it will be able to transfer military and logistic equipment, via sea, from Iran to Syria and Lebanon. In this context, the paper notes that during the second half of January 2022, Russia assumed control of the port and drove away the Iranian forces following attacks by Israel on December 7 and 28, 2021, on Iranian arms shipments which were stored at the port.
In light of these reports, it should be noted that recently-published updates from Syrian opposition sources contend that Iran and Hezbollah are taking advantage of the Russian and international focus on the war in Ukraine to redeploy their forces in southern Syria.
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