Earthquake activates Iran’s arms in Syria with Assad’s blessing

The commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Ismail Qaani, tours the city of Aleppo - February 8, 2023 (Mehr News Agency)

The commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Ismail Qaani, tours the city of Aleppo - February 8, 2023 (Mehr News Agency)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

During the days following the earthquake, Iran’s activity escalated through its military arms, which were strongly present in terms of dealing with the devastating effects of the earthquake that struck Syria on Feb. 6.

Such presence manifested itself on a multitude of levels prior to the late visit of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to the stricken areas in Aleppo and Latakia governorates on the fifth and sixth days of the earthquake.

Qaani conducting tours

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, conducted a tour in Aleppo, where he inspected the conditions of the earthquake-affected and supervised the work of Iranian rescuers at rubble-clearing sites, according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency on February 8.

He was the first foreign official to arrive in Syria after the earthquake and had appeared in Aleppo two days before the head of the regime’s arrival in the city.

In a video broadcast by the said agency of the visit, Qaani appeared wandering among the people, as a government official would while on a tour in his country.

On February 10, in conjunction with al-Assad’s visit to Aleppo (the first of his visits to earthquake-stricken areas) and just a day before his visit to Latakia, Qaani visited Latakia governorate and inspected the areas affected by the earthquake, asserting Iran’s readiness to provide all kinds of assistance. He also inspected Iran’s relief efforts in the city.

These visits were not covered by the official Syrian media, while they were reported by the Iranian media.

Since the early hours of the death of the former commander of the former Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, during an American operation targeting him in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ali Khamenei, appointed Qaani as the commander of the Quds Force as Soleimani’s successor.

Born in 1958 in the Iranian Khorasan province, Qaani is regarded as “Soleimani’s hard-line shadow,” as described in press reports. He served as deputy commander of the Quds Force for nearly two decades, rising through the ranks since he joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders during the Iran-Iraq war.

Qaani adheres to the idea of ​​Iran’s intervention and expansion in the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Tehran has also intensified its presence in Aleppo through its Liwa al-Baqir (the Baqir Brigade), which is stationed there alongside Syrian regime forces.

Abu Fadak in Aleppo

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia, close to Iran, is managing the relief operation in Aleppo following the devastating earthquake.

During his visit to Aleppo, al-Assad met with the Chief of Staff of the PMF, Abdulaziz al-Mohammadawi (Abu Fadak), and had a short conversation during which al-Assad expressed admiration for the Iraqi position on the earthquake disaster, saying, “You gave blood, so it is not unusual that you are also giving sweat.”

“May Allah protect you, Mr. President. Allah willing, al-Assad’s den will remain unscathed, and al-Assad will live long”, al-Mohammadawi replied.

Besides his tours and his direct supervision of the relief response in the presence of a mere Syrian escort in Aleppo, al-Mohammadawi visited Latakia on February 13 and met its governor, Amer Hilal, to discuss relief efforts for earthquake victims.

The governorate’s media office also quoted via Facebook the media spokesperson for the Iraqi relief mission (headed by al-Mohammadawi) as saying that, at the emergency level, the aid includes the opening of a permanent relief center in the said governorate to provide medical treatment services, and cooperation in the engineering and service field to render closed roads operational.

“Bringing tears of joy”

At a time when the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) movements are unreported by the official Syrian media, the Iranian media covers PMF activities in Syria, which the Tasnim News Agency described as “heartfelt scenes that bring tears of joy.”

On February 11, the Mehr News Agency described an Iraqi aid convoy to the city of Aleppo as “the largest to reach Aleppo by land,” saying that the citizens “welcomed” it.

In addition, activists circulated via social media days ago a video recording of the PMF Chief of Staff speaking to an officer of the Syrian regime, asking him to provide one of the women who were affected by the earthquake for the sake of having intercourse with her.

In the video, al-Mohammadawi said, “Give us any spinster who has long passed marriage, and she will do,” referring to women who are still unmarried.

Abu Fadak is considered a close associate of Qassem Soleimani. Iraqis also accuse him of “collaborating with America” during its invasion of Iraq in 2003 and of killing dozens of Iraqis in the city of Karbala during the October 2019 revolution under the Twitter hashtag “Abu Fadak, the killer of the Ashura revolutionaries.”

On February 15, the Syrian regime, through the Local Administration and Environment Minister, Hussein Makhlouf, honored Abu Fadak “for his great role in supporting the Syrian people in facing the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the country.”

Hezbollah on the line

On February 13, an aid convoy coming from southern Lebanon arrived in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.

The convoy, provided by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, set off from Lebanon on February 12, arriving the next day with the Hezbollah flag on it, accompanied by media coverage provided by the Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar TV channel.

The convoy included 22 trucks of relief and humanitarian assistance for the earthquake-affected, being the first of its kind. Other convoys were scheduled to be sent to Aleppo and other Syrian regions.

The head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, Hashem Safi al-Din, who was present at the convoy’s departure, said, “It is only natural for us in Lebanon, and in the Islamic resistance in particular, to be on the side of the Syrian people during such tragedy and distress,” according to al-Manar TV channel.

Since the start of the revolution in Syria, Hezbollah has been supporting the Syrian regime militarily on the ground, providing it with various types of support. Hezbollah elements also participated in crucial battles during the revolution in several governorates, including Homs, Aleppo, and certain regions of Damascus.

What’s the objective?

The researcher on Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi, explained that the Iranian activity in Syria falls within two tracks, political and military.

Politically speaking, this activity seeks to convey to the international community that these “multinational loyalist” entities are there to serve the Syrian people, specifically the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the Lebanese Hezbollah, being military entities that were used in the earthquake for political purposes.

In al-Nuaimi’s view, the presence of Ismail Qaani in Aleppo is a prelude to Bashar al-Assad’s visit and an affirmation of the absolute absence of the Syrian State. After Qaani entered and confirmed the safety of the scene from security hazards and joined efforts to secure the head of the Syrian regime’s safety, the visit took place according to their perspective, which explains Qaani’s visit to the same governorates visited by al-Assad (Aleppo and Latakia).

Researcher al-Nuaimi considered that Qaani’s visit is reassuring to the incubator of “the loyalist arms operating on Syrian territory,” basically saying that Qaani has access to the field and that he is able to change the scene and amend issues and that he is familiar with what is happening in Syria and able to defend the Syrian regime, although the regime itself is nowhere to be found. However, there is a clear combination of roles in line with the efforts to exploit the “disaster management economy,” although the damage inflicted by the regime upon the earthquake-stricken areas outweighs the effects of the earthquake.

On the military level, the cargo planes that land in Aleppo and Damascus may be loaded with precision-strike missile (PrSM) technology and drones, although they were not bombed by Israel. This does not mean, however, that they are undetected by Israel, particularly as they are loaded onto aircraft belonging to the sanctioned companies Mahan Air and Cham Wings Airlines. According to Mustafa al-Nuaimi, this is a major military track that can be exploited under the guise of aid.

In the early hours of February 6, a devastating earthquake struck Kahramanmaraş province in southern Turkey, affecting 11 Turkish provinces and opposition-held areas of northwestern Syria and the regime-controlled governorates of Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia.

From the first day, the regime tended to exploit the disaster politically by calling for lifting US sanctions under the pretext of the need for equipment to rescue those trapped under the rubble.

In addition, during the first four days of the earthquake, the regime obstructed the entry of aid into the northwest of the country, and the media focused on the communications and condolence telegrams it received from presidents and officials of some countries at the expense of the earthquake victims themselves.

The number of fatalities in Turkey from the magnitude 7.7 earthquake rose to 43,556, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Thursday.

The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria now stands at 47,244, the Associated Press reported.

The earthquake led to the death of 1,414 people in regime-controlled areas and 2,274 people in northwestern Syria, in addition to more than 1,600 bodies brought back from Turkey for burial in northwestern Syria through the crossings of Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salama, and al-Rai.



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