US Special Representative for Syria engagement threw cold water on reports that Iran might be reducing its role in Syria. Speaking on Thursday US Ambassador James Jeffrey said that the US has not seen any strategic Iranian changes in Syria when it comes to using the country as a “second launchpad for long-range weapons against Israel.” In short, reports of Iran’s demise in Syria are premature.Reports from Israel last week indicated that some believe Iran is reducing its role. This was pushed by at least one Israeli defense official last week via reports in media that appeared to indicate there was some consensus in Jerusalem regarding Iran’s reduction of forces. Israel has vowed to keep up pressure on Iran in Syria. Iran was believed to have around 1,000 of its own forces and thousands of pro-Iranian Shi’ite paramilitaries active in Syria. Yet Iran also has suffered blows in recent years, with more than 1,000 airstrikes on some 250 Iranian targets. In the last weeks the Syrian regime blamed Israel for numerous attacks, including near Palmyra, Albukamal, T-4, Shayrat, Damascus and near Homs and Aleppo. The question is whether the numerous attacks led to Iranian forces leaving or just rebuilding damaged buildings.Jeffrey addressed this issue directly, noting that reports from Jerusalem had said Iranians were withdrawing. “We see some Iranian movement around Syria pulling back from areas where the Israelis struck the,” he said at the State Department May 7 briefing. “We’ve also seen a withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias – some Hezbollah, some from other countries. But this may be chalked up to a relative lull in the fighting. These are frontline combat forces.” Then Jeffrey gave the bad news. “What we have not seen – and I want to underline this – is any strategic Iranian commitment not to try to use Syria both as a second launching pad for long-range weapons against Israel and as a conduit – the famous Shia Crescent – on to provide Hezballah more lethal and more modern precision-guided missiles, again, to threaten Israel.”Jeffrey indicated that based on Washington’s view, that is likely based on intelligence assessments provided to the State Department, there simply is no big change in Iran’s role in Syria or its overall strategic view of using Syria to threaten Israel and digest Lebanon. Jeffrey discussed Iran’s strategic goal has having more importance than these tactical responsitioning of forces that Iran has engaged in. Jeffrey also said that Iran was “not only was willing to use forces to bolster the Syrian regime, it also started introducing long-range weapon systems, precision-guided missiles – some for its own forces in Syria, some pushed onward to Hezbollah to seriously threaten Israeli security, and the Israelis have reacted in various ways.”Jeffrey indicated that Russia was surprised by Iran using Syria to threaten Israel. Jeffrey believes Russia is frustrated with the Assad regime. The US is monitoring how Iran may be moving ground forces in Syria that have become costly amid sanctions on Tehran. But Washington wants not only the Iranians out but the Iranian-commanded militias, such as those from Afghanistan and Iraq. The US shifted to this policy in 2018, seeking to reduce the Iranian role in Syria.Jeffrey’s assessment is interesting because it presents a clear picture of Iran’s long-term goal and throws some cold water on claims inside Israel regarding Iran’s changes on the ground. Israeli commentators are also critical of the “Iran is leaving” story. Alex Fishman and Ron Ben Yishai both wrote at Israel’s Ynet that Iran has not halted plans for entrenchment in Syria.