The southern part of Syria is witnessing a complex state of affairs, less than three months after the Assad’s forces managed to control the area with a Russian support, represented by the Syrian regime’s ambiguous policy in the area, a non-commitment to the terms of the settlement deals it imposed or a tendency to arrest the people who had clear anti-regime opinions in the past years.
In addition to this, the Iranian presence in Southern Syria is addressed anew, after Abolfazl Tabatabai, personal representative of Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Syria has visited the city of Daraa on Wednesday, October 24, while Israel kept silent, despite its recurrent calls to remove the Iranian forces from the area.
An Incursion a lot More Dangerous than Military Combat
Tabatabai visited Daraa governorate, heading a delegation of three people. During the visit, he met with Mohammad Khaled al-Hanous, Daraa governor, and Hussain Saleh al-Rifai, party secretary of the Daraa branch, and General Mohammad Rami Taqla, Leader of the Daraa Governorate Police, as well as Ahmad al-Syadi, the Daraa Waqf director.
According to what the “Ba’ath Party-Daraa Branch” has posted on its “Facebook page, the Tabatabai made the visit as to offer blessings and to congratulate the Assad’s forces for their victory in Daraa governorate and the return of security and safety to the area, after it was controlled and “liberated from terrorists,” according to the page’s description.
The visit triggered many questions about the hidden goals that Iran seeks to realize in the area through intensifying its on ground presence. This corresponded with the appearance of “Hezbollah,” Lebanese party, affiliated groups in the eastern area, Nasib, Sayida and Busra al-Harir, according to Enab Baladi’s reporter, who said that military formations of the party came into view in the area and offered the troops inducements, including the ability to stay at the governorate and others in the form of salaries that are more than the ones received by the personnel of the Assad’s forces’ “Fourth Division” or the “Fifth Legion,” directly run by Russia.
For his part, Ahmad Rahal, a brigadier general and military analyst, said that the Iranian presence in Southern Syria is “massive,” for there is the “Brigade 313,” which includes Shiite fighters from Busra al-Sham, in addition to a military base in the al-Lajat area.
He added telling Enab Baladi that the Nasib Border Crossing at the Syrian-Jordanian boarders is at the hands of the Iranians, as there is a military detachment, supervised by a military security officer affiliated with Iran, pointing out that the goal of this military detachment is to smuggle “Hezbollah’s” drugs to Jordan and the Gulf areas.
The Iranian presence was described by the former leader of the “Free Army,” Adham al-Krad, as “dangerous.”
On his “Facebook” page, he posted: “After the rifles were silenced, and we heard reassurances from the Russians about an international deal, providing for terminating Iran’s military presence and its malicious arms, represented by militias and the party, the thing happening now is more dangerous than military combat.”
“We are dogmatically, intellectually and existentially being fought by the Shiite expansion, which is keen on buying real estate and lands via cheap tools, Shiite-izing the rear and simple areas, and it is even buying weaponry and giving them to anonymous entities,” al-Krad added.
The former leader believes that what is being planned for Houran, promises a sectarian movement and war that will force its way, wondering: “Where are the reassurances of the international community, considering what is happening. This is moving the Russian side from the position of the guarantor to the that of the conspirator against Syria, both its people and land.”
The Iranian incursion corresponded to talks, in the area, about a Russian-Jordanian deal as to create a military formation “that is completely Sunni and non-adversarial to Jordan,” according to what the activist “Abu Ghyath al- -Sharaa” has posted on his “Facebook” account on Monday, October 15.
Al-Sharaa quoted that a preliminary deal has been reached by Russia and Jordan as to bring back a number of the leaders who left to Jordan, who will be included in the “Fifth Legion” or a similar faction, as to stop the military recruitment at the other side of the border and the military formation at the Jordanian borders is to be “completely Sunni,” pointing out that Jordan wants the factions’ leaders who worked for it in the past years to be in charge in the upcoming phase.
The talks about the Iranian incursion are accompanied by an Israeli silence, contrasting to what happened in the past months, when Tel Aviv demanded from Russia the withdrawal of the Iranian forces in return for allowing the Assad’s forces control over the southern borders.
According to Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President’s special envoy on Syria, in last August, the Iranian forces have retreated from their positions in Southern Syria to distance of 85kilometers, as requested by Israel and so not to annoy its leadership.
The military analyst and Brigadier General Ahmad Rahal divided the Iranian presence in Syria according to Israel and the U.S. to two types. The first supports the Assad’s regime, posing no problems to Israel and America, and the second threatens the national security of Israel, thus, considered a trouble for Tel Aviv.
Rahal stressed that Israel and America allowed Iran’s entry to Syria and the deployment of its army and military equipment as to protect the Syrian regime. However, when Iran thought of forming the “Syrian Hezbollah” in the south, Tel Aviv bombarded a convoy, including Iranian leaders, of whom was the top officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Mohammad Ali Dadi, in addition to a leader of “Hezbollah” Jihad Imad Mughniyah in January 2015, pointing out that Mustafa Mughniyah, Jihad’s brother, is working to form the party in the town of Hader and under the eyes of Israel.
Reconciled Militants Included in Three Military Formations in Daraa
Over recent weeks there has been an increase in conscription to regime-allied military formations from among the population of Daraa Governorate, with each formation receiving certain promises as to seek to gain the largest number of recruits.
In the context of a reconciliation arrangement agreed with the Syrian regime in July, pro-government military formations have also given assurances to locals who have accepted the settlement, particularly military reserves or those retired from service.
“4th Division”, Serving in the Southern Region
One of the pro-regime military bodies into which locals are being drafted is the “4th Division”, which has promised recruits that service will be restricted to Syria’s southern region, which will be considered a substitute for the regular service.
The “4th Division” has established two training centres in the region, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa. The first of these is located in al-Muzayrib town and the second in Zayzoun; their initial course was completed ten days ago, with soldiers then being deployed across southern areas.
Among the conditions binding upon reconciled locals is the handing over of weaponry in exchange for receiving a salary and weekly days off. Locals also receive identification documents allowing for safe passage within Syria as part of the settlement, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent.
“5th Corps”, Affected by Refused Service
Another military formation is the “5th Corps”, which is under the direct control of the Russian military. This body is led by the former opposition commander Ahmad al-Aouda in the eastern region (Nassib, Saida, and Busra al-Harir), and Abu Marshad al-Bardan (the former commander of the al-Mu’taz Billah opposition faction) in the western region (Tafas, Dael, and Abta).
The “5th Corps” has experienced a substantial amount of enrollment among locals from the al-Badiya region. However, the refusal of militants from Daraa’s western region to join the regime’s ranks – and the militants’ consequent transferal to Idlib Governorate – has meant that some of the “5th Corps” western units have disbanded, with units remaining primarily in the east.
Over the past two months, clear competition has emerged between the “4th Division” and “5th Corps” for the recruitment of militants who have agreed to reconciliation.
The “5th Corps” was formed in late 2016 at the order of the Russian military. Russia considered the formation to be a counterpart to Iran-backed militias in Syria in acting as support units for Assad’s forces. The Corp subsequently made advances at the expense of rebel factions, with the support of Russian weaponry.
In addition to these, other military departments have emerged which are recruiting local militants, including the regime’s Military Security and Air Intelligence divisions.
“Hizbullah” Enters the Scene
There is also the case of factions appearing over recent weeks in Daraa’s eastern region which are affiliated to the Lebanese “Hizbullah” organisation, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent. These factions are reportedly offering recruitment incentives to local militants, including the possibility of remaining stationed in the governorate. The factions are also offering financial incentives, such as double the salary which the 4th Division and 5th Corps are providing.
There is no exact information currently available regarding the number of recruits who have joined each of these factions, as information is classified on grounds of being “military”.
Russia is attempting to form a military force in support of Assad’s regime as an attempted counter-weight to the numerous and influential Iran-backed military factions in Syria.