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).

Read more at Jerusalem Post

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

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security