Amid hike in Israeli strikes, will Iran change its strategy in Syria
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
In various parts of Syria, there were repeated Israeli and US bombardments on sites that Iran takes as headquarters for its forces or militias, including military positions belonging to regime forces and suspected installations developing or containing weapons depots, and civilian airstrips, as was the case recently with the international airports of Damascus and Aleppo.
With the regime’s attempts to show this bombing as targeting civilian or government installations, Israeli (unofficial) reports have spoken on several occasions that some of these bombardments have targeted Iranian positions in Syria, while others have intercepted Iranian arms shipments, such as the US targeting of sites described as Iranian in the Deir Ezzor governorate last August.
Meanwhile, Iran sought to paint this bombing as “a targeting of the infrastructure in Syria,” according to the official website of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time.
As these targetings intensified, the Iranian aim of insisting on violating Israeli-American oversight in Syria over the past years was questioned.
What does Iran seek?
With expanded Israeli and US targeting of Iranian positions in Syria, the most recent of which was the Israeli bombing of Aleppo International Airport in early September, Iran denied military or intelligence activity in the region, while the other side confirmed that it had targeted Iranian positions in Syria.
The Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported that Israel targeted Aleppo Airport with three missiles. Some sources reported firing five missiles that damaged the runway.
Israel had used airspace east of Euphrates held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and International Coalition Forces (ICF) to bomb the airport, while Israeli warplanes should have used Jordanian airspace to enter the area.
The Iranian statements and the Syrian regime’s talk that the Israeli air force targets civilian and government facilities do not reflect the reality of these targetings, according to the researcher specializing in Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi.
With regard to the recent changes concerning the US bombing in eastern Syria and the last Israeli bombing in the north, al-Nuaimi considered that they fall within the framework of Iran’s strengthening of its military bases in the two regions, adding that it was, and still is, seeking to pass shipments of weapons to these bases despite the oversight imposed by Israel and the US.
In Deir Ezzor governorate, for instance, the Imam Ali military base holds a symbolic and religious value for the Iranian project in the region, says the researcher, as “the architect of the Iranian foreign project, Qasem Soleimani, was the one who established this base.” The base is also an important place for storing weapons coming from Tehran and Iraq to Syria, as is the case in several areas of the eastern countryside of Aleppo, where pro-Iranian militias run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are stationed.
Iran’s strategy remains unchanged
In view of Iran’s insistence on breaching US-Israeli oversight in Syria and the repeated targeting of Iran by both sides over the past months, researcher Mustafa al-Nuaimi considered that Iran’s strategy “has not changed” despite repeated bombardments.
He noted that the changes taking place in Syria had contributed in some way to enhancing Iran’s tactical capabilities in the face of its opponents at the present time.
He believes that recent strikes against Iran in Syria will never alter its strategy but rather have intensified arms smuggling operations.
Tehran is currently adopting a strategy of “expanding smuggling lines,” transporting arms shipments by air, land, and sea, in order to convey messages to its opponents that it is capable of changing the rules of the game by means of this strategy.
However, the question remains: Why has Tehran expanded the smuggling lines? And what impact does this strategy have on the positioning of its militias in Syria?
Based on the foregoing, al-Nuaimi said that Iran is using its militias in Syria as advanced military shields, the aim of which is to alleviate political burdens in international hallways with regard to Iran’s nuclear negotiation files.
On the other hand, however, Israel and the US expanded the scope of their goals in Syria to match the magnitude of the risks they face in Iran’s positioning operations in the region.
With such tactical variables among opponents, al-Nuaimi considered that the course of escalation was moving towards further confrontation and that targeting might expand to include targets within neighboring Iraq by targeting international and American bases and representations.
The United States military bases in Syria are situated on the outskirts of most Iranian bases near the border strip with Iraq, such as the al-Tanf base, known as the “55-Kilometer area” on the Jordanian-Iraqi-Syrian border triangle, as well as the al-Omar Field base east of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi-Syrian border, and the al-Shaddadi base on the same border.
On the other hand, Iran is stationed in the cities of Mayadin and al-Bukamal, east of Deir Ezzor, in addition to separate areas of the Syrian Badia on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Last August, the US targeted Iranian positions in the city of Mayadin, east of Deir Ezzor. Although this targeting was not unprecedented, it differs from the previous one, as it targeted one of the large warehouses of the Iranian militias in the region.
Surely, this targeting was not influential enough to prompt Iran to change its strategy in the region considered an Iranian arms corridor to Syria, according to al-Nuaimi.
He reckoned that this targeting was considered to be in the context of “reciprocal responses,” with pro-Iranian militias targeting days earlier the United States base in the al-Omar oil field in the same area.
Mustafa al-Nuaimi considered that the US policy of targeting was based solely on the targeting of “surplus power to Iranian militias” and that it was not intended to effectively weaken them.
Specifically, the US intends to target Iranian missile and drone programs. However, these targets have not yet gone beyond the concept of “disciplined rules of engagement.”
To date, the US has not resorted to expanding the scope of engagement with Iran’s allies in Syria and Iraq, as it is still separating the files of Iranian deployment in the two countries, although Iranian “armed” drones targeting US bases in Syria came from Iraqi territory to target al-Tanf military base.
Statements and complaints
The Syrian regime merely threatens to respond to Israel’s strikes in Syria and submits complaints to international actors in objection to Israeli bombardments.
Regarding the bombing of Aleppo Airport on 7 September, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a letter to both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the Security Council that the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority would file a formal complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization against Israel following its bombing of the said airport.
This was preceded by the Syrian regime’s Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, speaking on 31 August that “Israel is playing with fire and risking an explosive security and military situation in the region.”
In a tweet posted by the ministry on its official Twitter account on 1 September, Mekdad threatened that Syria would not remain silent in the face of Israeli aggression and that “Israelis will pay, sooner or later.”
He demanded that the US and the Western countries be held responsible for “encouraging” Israel to “persevere in aggression” on Syrian territory, as he put it.
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