Iranian-recruited Afghans affiliated with the group Liwa Fatemiyoun posted a video on Tuesday showing them near the Golan Heights and claiming that they had come to fight the “Zionists.” The Fatemiyoun are a group of Afghan Shi’ites recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to fight in Syria on the side of the Syrian regime. They have played a key role in some battles near Palmyra and they are now continuing to train and live in Syria.
The video was posted to a Twitter account affiliated with the Fatemiyoun and links to a longer version of a documentary about the role of the Afghans in Syria. It is mostly a propaganda film about how they came to fight ISIS and save Shi’ite sites. The longer online version is not centered on Israel as much as the one minute clip they posted to Twitter. The clip shows them near the Golan Heights and claiming that their final target is Israel.
Liwa Fatemiyoun, an Iranian-backed Shia militia, produce a video showing their fighters a short distance away from the #Golan Heights.— Joe Truzman (@Jtruzmah) December 24, 2019
"Final target is that white mountain ahead which is the Golan Heights & being held by #Israel." English subtitles added for translation. #Syria pic.twitter.com/kELPzH1LlA
Joe Truzman, a social media user and security expert, noticed the video and added subtitles to it. He says that it “shows their fighters a short distance away from the Golan Heights.” The fighters say their “final target is that white mountain which is the Golan Heights and is being held by Israel.” The white mountain is the Hermon. It is not clear when the video was shot. There has been some snow on the Hermon this year but it may have been in the spring or years ago. The unit has operated in Syria for several years, but the claim that they want to target Israel is new and is part of growing Israel-Iran tensions. Syrian regime media outlet SANA accused Israel of airstrikes over Syria on Sunday night.
Other photos posted recently about the Fatemiyoun show them training near Albukamal and include details of protests against their presence in Deir Ezzor. The photos near Albukamal may have been taken at the Imam Ali base that Iran is building in Syria. The base was hit by airstrikes in September, but recent photos show that Iran is building tunnels to hide weapons there. They appear to be setting down roots in Syria. Many of these Shi’ites are poor, and signed up to fight for Iran as part of this unit, for low pay and a chance at a better life. They have died in large numbers over the years, with some saying Iran used them as cannon fodder. They numbered in the tens of thousands, but it is not clear how many survived the war. Some of them come to pray at the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque and shrine, and congregate in those areas where Hezbollah members and other Shi’ites live in Syria.
The long-term role of the Fatemiyoun is unclear in Syria but their reference to fighting Israel is part of a larger nexus of Iranian-backed militias in the country, including those from Iraq such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which also view Israel as their main enemy. They have established a presence in Syria in recent years. Israel is opposed to Iran’s entrenchment and weapons transfers across Syria. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that Syria could become Iran’s Vietnam. Recent reports from Iran claim that a key IRGC aerospace commander named Amir Ali Hajizadeh was unharmed in a recent airstrike in Syria. Yet it was reported he oversaw a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria in 2018. The Fatemiyoun are the lowest level of Iran’s militia network, using armored vehicles and small arms. They are not thought to be part of the sophisticated precision guidance, air defense or drone operations Iran has in Syria.