“Imam Hussein” militia: Limited options for Iran on the Syrian front

Iranian militia members in Syria 2021 (AFP)

Iranian militia members in Syria 2021 (AFP)

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Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

Members of the Iranian “Imam Hussein” militia entered into clashes in southern Lebanon against Israeli forces after they came from Syria, Avichay Adraee, head of the Arab media division of the Israeli army Spokesperson’s Unit, posted on the X platform on November 2.

The militia, which was established by Iran in Syria, consists of Shiite forces from Syria and Sudan, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade forces, and the Pakistani Zainabiyoun, in addition to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and the Yemeni Ansar Allah militias.

This militia (also known as Syrian Hezbollah) has great combat capabilities, and with the threats of Iran, as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah and its Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, of the possibility of widening the front of clashes and the joining of forces from the border between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights, and Adraee’s latest announcement, it seems that there are already possible preparations to ignite a new front, especially with the increasing violence of the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The Occupied Golan front has witnessed a long calm since the disengagement agreement signed with the Israeli occupation in 1974, and with the exception of isolated incidents over 50 years, the Syrian border with the Golan did not pose any significant dangers.

But the current situation is capable of transforming from an Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip, skirmishes and mutual bombardment within the “rules of engagement” on the Lebanese front, to a wide regional war, including the Syrian front via Iranian militias.

“Simple skirmishes” 

Newsweek published a report last July saying that Iran had assembled a heavily armed unit in Syria that included thousands of fighters from across the region, capable of launching attacks on neighboring American and Israeli forces, according to a document that the magazine said it had seen through a member of the intelligence agency of a country allied with Iran.

According to the American magazine, the division, which bore the name “Imam Hussein Division,” is the “most elite” fighting force of the Iranian Quds Corps in Syria and has high combat capabilities.

The faction was armed with precision-guided ammunition, attack, and spy drones, in addition to a wide range of light weapons. The division had previously carried out an intense barrage of drone and missile attacks that struck the American military garrison in the al-Tanf border region with Iraq in southeastern Syria in 2021, according to the magazine. 

Despite these capabilities possessed by the Imam Hussein militia and the war escalation on land and in the air in the Gaza Strip, the Lebanese front has not witnessed, until the moment of writing this report, a violation of the rules of engagement.

On the other hand, despite the limited clashes, the expansion of the front according to military and political changes in the region is possible, which means the possibility of Iran using the Syrian front, albeit in a limited way.

Syrian writer and researcher Marwan Farzat told Enab Baladi that Iran has complete control over the border area between Syria and occupied Palestine, and the main goal of the presence of the Imam Hussein militia is to seize control of the military decision to start the battle or not to engage.

Israeli occupation army artillery targeted various sites in southern Syria between the Daraa and Quneitra governorates against the backdrop of shells launched from Syrian territory towards the occupied Golan on October 11.

On October 28, it also bombed an area adjacent to the military al-Jomou’ hill base, which is the source of the missile strikes launched towards the occupied territories during the recent period.

According to Farzat, the bombing from Syrian territory is a simple skirmish, with the possibility of opening the Syrian front.

War decision rests with Iran, not the regime

In a report published by the “Iran International” website, which opposes the regime in Tehran, it said that the “Imam Hussein Division” is known as “Syrian Hezbollah,” and it is the largest executive arm of the Iranian regime in Syria.

This faction is considered one of the largest multinational military units in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was established by the former commander of the Quds Corps, Qassem Soleimani, in 2016, claiming to fight the Islamic State organization in Syria, but these militias worked as an umbrella to implement Iran’s activities in Syria.

The military capabilities of the “Imam Hussein” militia and the areas of its presence open the possibility for Iran to benefit from the current circumstances by expanding the fronts of clashes with Israel through two points, the first of which is its control of the southern region of Syria, and the military capabilities that exist there.

According to Farzat, Iran informed the Syrian regime not to interfere in the battle, and leaders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have already arrived in southern Syria.

Military analyst Colonel Ahmed Hamada told Enab Baladi that Iran is using the militia not to attack Israel as much as it seeks to achieve long-term gains in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq under the slogan “Jerusalem Road,” a road that has not been activated nearly a month after the Gaza battles, according to his opinion.

Since the “Tishreen War” in 1973 and then the Separation of Forces Agreement signed in 1974, the border areas between Syria and occupied Palestine have witnessed calm for many decades, punctuated only by sporadic incidents in recent years following the security unrest in the region following the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Researcher Marwan Farzat pointed out, in his interview with Enab Baladi, that the Syrian regime does not oppose Iran’s current control over the border region and the deployment of its militias there, but its loss of the border card means that the decision on war and peace is no longer in its hands, which is a very important point on the strategic, political and military levels in the long term.

The number of Iranian military sites is 44 in Daraa, 33 in Quneitra, and 15 in As-Suwayda, according to a research analysis conducted by the Jusoor for Studies Center in cooperation with the InformaGENE Data Analysis Foundation.

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Iran has sought to form local military entities, to form groups auxiliary to the regime forces, and has been able to recruit young men. One of the most prominent formations in southern Syria is the “Golan Regiment” linked to Hezbollah. These groups have spread in areas near the border strip with the occupied Syrian Golan.

Moscow between opposition and acceptance

On November 1, Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Quneitra reported the return of Russian patrols to southern Syria after an absence of more than a year. The patrols roamed south of Quneitra, between the town of al-Mu’allaqa and Ghadeer al-Bustan, near the al-Safra company of the regime’s “90th Brigade” in the governorate.

Russian patrols have been effectively absent from the area for more than a year, as the Russian military police evacuated the “Red Hills” point in the north of the governorate in mid-2021 and have not returned to the area since then, while they returned and conducted two tours in the same area.

The return of patrols indicates a Russian effort to have a presence in the southern Syrian region, in parallel with the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, the possibility of the expansion of the Lebanese front, and the opening of the Syrian front at a later time.

Both Russia and Israel have military and security understandings regarding southern Syria, but Russia’s abandonment of its positions in the region left a security vacuum that Iran later exploited.

Russia has taken a position contrary to the positions of Western countries regarding the military campaign launched by Israel against the Gaza Strip, but these positions do not mean that it allows the opening of an expanded front from southern Syria, even with the large presence of the “Imam Hussein” militia.

According to the military analyst Hamada, the strong relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv will push Russia not to allow the “Imam Hussein” militia to attack Israeli sites.

While researcher Farzat believes that any front opened means reducing pressure on Moscow in its war against Ukraine, these moves can also be used in the future to improve its political conditions and conclude deals with Western countries.

 

 

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