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Russians Demand Iranian Militias Withdraw From Sites In Syria



The story of Russia’s new, aggressive attitude toward Iran can be found here: “Russia demands Iranian militias withdraw from Syrian province,” JNS, September 4, 2022:

Russia has demanded that Iranian militias withdraw from military positions west of the Syrian province of Hama and from other positions in central and western Syria to prevent them from being targeted by Israel, Asharq al-Awsat reported on Friday [September 9].

Three Russian officers [who met with] their Iranian counterparts made the demand at the Hama Military Airport in central Syria on Aug. 31, according to the London-based Arabic daily. The reason for the directive is that Russia wishes to avoid the militias being targeted by Israel, the report stated.

Russian officers informed the Iranian side of the need to evacuate Iranian military headquarters near the site of Regiment 49, which belongs to the Syrian regime forces,” a source told the news outlet.

Iranian missile and rocket components arrive regularly via the nearby Syrian seaport of Tartus and are stored in vast underground bunkers at this installation, according to the report.

Russia wants Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria for several reasons.

First, Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-related targets in Syria also endanger Syrian forces and infrastructure. One example of this was the Iranian weapons manufacturing site at Masyaf, where Iran built and stored precision-guided missiles for transfer to Hezbollah, but Syria shared the facility, building and storing its own missiles at Masyaf. Israeli airstrikes destroyed the facility, destroying Syrian and Iranian weapons, and also causing Syrian casualties, as almost always happens when Israel strikes an Iranian target in Syria. This is because many of the Iranians are stationed on bases that are very close to those of the Syrians, and in some cases, as at Masyaf, Syrians and Iranians share the same base. Another example: the recent Israeli airstrikes on civilian airports in Damascus and Aleppo. These strikes were prompted by Iran’s use of the airports to deliver, in civilian aircraft, weapons and weapons-manufacturing equipment to its bases in Syria. By hitting the runways and closing the airports, Israel prevents Iran, albeit temporarily, from completing its weapons transfers. But those airports are also used, and mainly, by Syrian civilians and their closure hurts not just Iran, but Syria’s civilian air traffic. And Russia also depends on those airports for its non-military, and even some military, personnel.

Second, now that the civil war has been effectively won by Bashar Assad, Russia wants to be the only foreign force in Syria, and sees Iran as a dangerous rival, that would like to push the Infidel Russians out of the country. The Russians want to ensure their permanent presence in Syria, especially at such facilities as their naval base at Tartus, and their airbase at Hmeimim. Moscow sees these permanent military outposts in Syria as a payoff for the help it provided Bashar Assad during his decade-long civil war.

Third, the Russians have viewed with alarm Israel’s ability to strike Iranian-linked sites at will all over Syria, and Moscow worries that Russian forces might be dangerously near bases where both Iranian and Syrian military are stationed, and that are hit by the Israelis, as the IDF continues to conduct wide-ranging airstrikes on Iranian targets. Russia and Iran have bases in Syria that are often close to one another; Russian forces are endangered because of their proximity to Iranian bases, and the only solution, as far as Moscow is concerned, is to force an Iranian withdrawal. A series of Israeli attacks on the underground weapons storehouse that Iran maintains very near Russia’s naval base at Tartus, for example, could also endanger Russian military infrastructure and personnel.

Fourth, Iran has taken to delivering weapons by air to Syria for transfer to Hezbollah, which has led to Israel’s recent attacks on Syria’s airports at Damascus and Aleppo, causing them to shut down. Aleppo has now been struck twice in one week: the second time just after repairs to its runways had been completed. It is clear that as long as Iran continues to use those airports to deliver weapons, they will be on the IAF’s target list. Russia wants Iran to stop those weapons shipments by air, so that Israel will no longer be striking Syrian civilian airports, that the Russians, rely on to fly in their diplomatic, and even some of their military, personnel.

Thus, Russia has been pressuring Assad to demand that Iran remove its bases from Syria. And Russian commanders have themselves demanded directly to their Iranian counterparts, that Iran remove several of its most important bases, including Iran’s military headquarters in Hama province, which is close to a Syrian base where missiles are stored for its S-200 air defense system. Iran’s base is simply too close to that Syrian base for comfort; both Syria and Russia want the Iranians to pull out.

The Iranians have yet to comply with the Russian demand. But the Russians will not give up: they will likely continue to pressure Iran to remove two of its key bases in Syria (and eventually, to remove all of them}, both indirectly through Assad, and directly through its own commanders on the ground in Syria. Russia wants to maintain stability in Syria and to deprive Israel of targets to strike.

Will the Iranians give in to the demands of both Damascus and Moscow, or brazen it out, insisting that they will not leave, that their bases in Syria are critical components of the “resistance” to the “Zionist state? Russia seeks to maintain stability, and its own bases, in Syria, and wants to deprive Israel of Iranian targets to strike. The Israeli airstrike in August hit several Iranian sites close to Russia’s naval base in the port city of Tartus. That was a wake-up call for the Russians. They’ve now made it clear: the Iranians must leave, so that those devastating Israeli airstrikes will stop.

If Syria is worried about Iran’s response, or rather adamant refusal to respond, to a direct demand from Assad for the removal of Iranian forces from the country, the Russians can reassure Damascus that they will protect the regime militarily from any Iranian forces that refuse to leave. Syrian troops, with Russian help, can encircle Iranian bases, or even cut off water and energy supplies to Iranian forces. But will it come to that, or will the Iranians, reluctantly, bow to Russia’s superior military strength and pull up their stakes in Syria? The next few months should tell.