Iran may be preparing for conflict with Israel in Syria and no longer will accept Israeli airstrikes on its warehouses without a response, a report over the weekend suggested. Veteran journalist Elijah Magnier wrote on the website Medium about whether the “great Middle Eastern war will begin in the Levant” and cited Syria as a potential flashpoint.
Magnier’s report is interesting because he asserts that according to “private” sources, Iran is evacuating “sites of the gatherings of its advisers, not for withdrawal or for redeployment, but to find bases within the Syrian Army barracks. Hezbollah has taken over the vacated Iranian buildings. Russia has been informed of the change so that the information would reach Israel.”
In mid-May, reports emerged that Iran might be withdrawing some of its forces from Syria, estimated at some 1,000 IRGC personnel. But analysts and US officials rejected this assessment at the time.
The June 6 piece by Magnier provides another view as to what may be happening: “Iran no longer wants to accept Israeli strikes on its warehouses without any response.”
An airstrike killed nine Iranian-backed forces in Syria, Radio Farda reported over the weekend. This report also said there were explosions near Masyaf, a Syrian-regime and Iranian facility that has been hit by airstrikes in the past. That airstrike may have taken place on June 4.
Another airstrike, blamed on Israel, was reported overnight on June 7 in the morning. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some eight warheads fired by “unidentified drones” hit an area near Deir Ezzor. The targets were Afghan and Iraqi Shi’ite militias at the “Meizileh base,” reports said.
Iran has been moving its advisers, which Magnier say number a few hundred, to Syrian-regime bases. This would protect them ostensibly because airstrikes would be less likely to hit them there. If there were airstrikes, then the Syrian regime would respond, and this “would most likely drag the US into the battle to support its ally Israel and have an impact on the forthcoming elections,” Magnier wrote.
Russia plays a key role because it is coordinating with Israel, he wrote, adding: “It was agreed between Israel and Russia that Moscow and [Russia’s airbase at] Khmeimim would be informed of the details of any strike.” Russia plays the middleman, in this view, not part of Iran’s “axis of resistance,” but telling its Syrian-regime allies what is happening.
“Russia has informed Israeli leaders of this move by Iranian advisers and their presence among the Syrian army units,” Magnier wrote. “Russia warned Israel not to strike the Syrian army under any circumstances and informed them that the Iranian bases have been handed over to Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah’s special-operations units, Radwan (Al-Ridwan), have not lost a battle in Syria, he wrote. However, the unit did suffer a setback at the hands of Turkey in Idlib in February and March, The Jerusalem Post reported on May 21.
Magnier’s article has a larger point. Hezbollah takes seriously the killing of its fighters, he wrote, adding: “Israel’s drones make sure these locations are free of Iranian advisers and that the Russian warning reaches those concerned to evacuate human personnel... Israel follows the same practice when it attacks Hezbollah cars or trucks, warning drivers and passengers in advance.”
Warning missiles are fired, the report said.
But after an incident in Beirut in August 2019 involving drones, Hezbollah sought to retaliate, and it wants to show it has deterrence. Hezbollah has stockpiled missiles and precision guidance and “drones, land-attack long-range all-weather subsonic cruise missiles… long-range anti-ship missiles” and other munitions, Magnier wrote.
Hezbollah believes it has a deterrent and “new rules of engagement” that protect its men in Syria. Nevertheless, wars can start by mistake, the article concludes.