In Postwar Syria, It’s Hard to Tell Where the Assad Regime Ends and Iranian Control Starts

At the beginning of this year, southwestern Syria—which played a pivotal role at the start of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s rule—remained a major rebel stronghold. But that changed this summer, when Syrian, Iranian, and Russian forces successfully gained control of the area. The Assad regime is now arresting, kidnapping, and killing remaining resistance leaders—including several who had worked closely with Israel. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, don’t expect a return to the status quo ante:

[A] new dispensation in southwestern Syria is emerging. [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxy militias—including Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq—are an integral part of it. A recent report on the Syrian Observer website provided details of a large Iranian base under construction in the Lajat area of Deraa province. . . . The report went on to describe the route taken by Iran-associated fighters from the Iraq-Syria border crossing at Abu Kamal to Lajat, under the supervision of IRGC personnel.

Evidence is also emerging of the presence of Hizballah personnel and other pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen in Syrian Arab Army uniforms among the regime forces returning to the border area with the Golan Heights. This is despite the nominal Russian commitment to keep such elements at least 85 kilometers from the border. This Iranian activity close to the border goes hand in hand with Tehran’s activity further afield, including the transfer of Shiites from southern Iraq to deserted Sunni neighborhoods.

Those who hoped for one kind of new Syria are being rounded up. . . . Iran, meanwhile, is busy creating a very different kind of new order. In it, an independent Iranian presence is intertwined with, and largely indistinguishable from, the body of the Syrian state itself, in a way not coincidentally analogous to the situation in Lebanon and Iraq (minus the nominal institutions of representative government).

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More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

Hizballah Prepares for War, and UN Peacekeepers Do Nothing

Dec. 10 2018

According to last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2373, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—the peacekeeping force created after the Second Lebanon War to keep both Israel and Hizballah out of southern Lebanon—is authorized “to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” If anything ought to rouse UNIFIL to action, writes Elliott Abrams, it should be the IDF’s recent discovery and destruction of tunnels dug by Hizballah to move troops into the Galilee:

The existence of these tunnels, dug from precisely the area of southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is meant to patrol, means that this area is indeed “utilized for hostile activities.” What, then, is the meaning of [UNIFIL’s statement in] response that it “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”? The meaning is that UNIFIL will likely do nothing.

UNIFIL is not supposed to be merely a means of communication, or the Security Council would have bought cell phones instead of paying for a military force. Moreover, there are no “appropriate authorities” in Lebanon; if there were, Hizballah would never have been able to dig its tunnels.

The tunnels are hardly the only brazen Hizballah violation of the Security Council resolutions undertaken right under UNIFIL’s nose. Consider this: Hizballah is blocking roads in southern Lebanon to smooth the path of missiles it is moving into the area. . . . Then there is the village of Gila, just north of the Israeli border, where there is a Hizballah headquarters and according to the Israelis about twenty warehouses with weapons, combat positions, lookout points, and dozens of underground positions. All this was built in an area supposedly patrolled by UNIFIL. . . .

This is a test of UNIFIL and its new commander, [Stefan Del Col, who took over in August]. “Communicating” to “appropriate authorities” is a euphemism for doing nothing at all. Hizballah is preparing for war. UNIFIL is supposed to get in its way. If it cannot hinder Hizballah’s war preparations in any way, and is even ignorant of them, UNIFIL is a waste of time and money.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, United Nations