This report is an introduction for a series of reports, which will address Iran's military and economic activities in Syria during 2018.
The current report highlights Iran's most prominent activities in 2017, activities that still have major effects until this date.
Iranian influence in Syria is often reduced to its military support, including more than 50,000 armed militia members.() Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its auxiliary institutions not only provided military and financial support to the Syrian regime but have expanded their administrative and economic activities in Syria by infusing their institutions within the Armed Forces, service-delivery ministries, local political and armed bodies, and non-governmental organizations. This monitoring report provides an overview of Iran’s illicit activities in Syria during 2017 and early 2018. It provides indicators for its long-term interests and highlights mechanisms that it uses to infiltrate government agencies, the private sector, and society in general regardless of the political outcome of the crisis.
1. Iran’s Military Presence and Strategies
IRGC forces organize their operations in Syria according to five main military fronts:
In addition, the IRGC established military bases in all of the aforementioned fronts to accommodate up to 10,000 fighters who report directly to IRGC command, such as Al-Fatemiyoun, Al-Zaynibion, and Quds Brigade. It supplied these bases with heavy weapons and anti-aircraft missiles. The central headquarters or command center used by Iranian forces is located in a building at Damascus Airport called the "Glass House," where Syrian forces are barred from entering. This has allowed Iranian forces and their bases to receive and store arms and military equipment from Iran without being checked or monitored. Foreign fighters, Foreign fighters, such as those from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, are not subject to the orders of Syrian generals in the Syrian Army. They are under the command of the IRGC.
The recruitment process of Iranian-backed foreign fighters primarily targets individuals from the Shiite sect. The rise of Iraqi Shiite militias in Syria became more visible since the emergence of Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigade at Sayeda Zeinab district in Damascus in 2012. The recruitment of Iraqi Shiite jihads took place mainly at mosques and Shiite seminaries under the patronage of Shiite clerics. Later, recruitment shifted to social media. Iran also recruited Afghan refugees from among the estimated three million Shiites of Hazara; less than a million of them held official refugee status in Iran. Others are forced to volunteer to fight in Syria under threat of deportation to Afghanistan.
Although the majority of Pakistan’s population is Sunni, there are several million Shiites who are the target for IRGC recruitment campaigns. Others volunteer to carry arms and die in defense of the Shiite community, the majority of whom are Pashtun from the Parachinar region of Pakistan tribal districts.
Recruitment campaigns are carried out at Shiite holy sites in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Pakistan, in addition to other supplemental online campaigns through social media. Campaign messages tend to focus on the pretext of defending Shiite holy sites and the Shia community. Military training is provided for approximately two months and sometimes for up to six months for heavy weapons training programs.
Iran has continued its encroachment into southern Syria despite international agreements aimed at curbing its role in the area and despite the latest Russian-American de-escalation agreement signed in November 2017.
Because of their security interests in southern Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the US regard the expansion of Iranian militias near the border with Jordan and with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as “a red line,” and thus they require swift military action. Despite this “red line,” Iran has continued to push the limits and expand its presence in recent months.
The province of Daraa witnessed an unexpected increase in conscription campaigns between Iranian and Regime forces during October and November 2017. The IRGC formed Brigade 313 as a new force in Daraa province and targeted young men for recruitment. Within a short period, the Iranian-led 313 Brigade attracted more than 200 young men. Members who were conscripted into the formation were mostly young men from Daraa known to work on behalf of the regime. They were promoting the force because of the salaries and benefits it provides. Enlisting in the army militias takes place at the Brigade 313 headquarters in the city of Izra. New members receive an ID badge with the IRGC logo, ensuring his ability to pass through regime-force checkpoints. Two weeks after joining, recruits were enrolled in training camps in Izra and Sheikh Maskin.
The Iranian military established a compound at a site used by the Syrian army outside Al-Kiswah, 14 km (8 miles) south of Damascus. The base lies about 50 km (31 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Satellite images show construction activity at the site referenced by the intelligence source between January and October 2017.
Images expose a series of two dozen large low-rise buildings, likely used for housing soldiers and vehicles.
In recent months, additional buildings were added to the site. However, it is impossible to independently verify the purpose of the site and the presence of the Iranian military.
The images of the base do not reveal any signs of large or unconventional weaponry, which means if it were a base, it would most likely be to house soldiers and vehicles. Private sources indicate that senior Iranian military officials may have visited the compound in recent weeks. The images suggest that the facility is military in nature with several garages that can hold six to eight vehicles each.
New buildings were constructed and other buildings renovated in the past six months, although the exact use of the new structures cannot be determined. It is also not clear whether the facility is currently occupied. Shia fighters from other countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, are also alleged to be operating in Syria under the control of the IRGC, and it is possible they could use the base.
From the number of buildings and the size of the base, the estimated number of troops deployed there is around 500.
Established in 2003 by the Badr Brigades, this faction is the paramilitary organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shia Islamist party. Its leader is Hadi Al Amiri. At present, it is not only a military organization but also a political party with 22 seats in the Iraqi parliament. Its military units comprise 10,000-15,000 trained fighters. Its units were spotted in every PMU operation against ISIS.
In Syria, they participated in battles in southern Aleppo and Western Qalmoun. Currently, they are based in southern Aleppo.
This organization was formed in 2003 as a resistance movement against the US invasion of Iraq. It is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and has up to 30,000 troops. Its fighters also support regime forces in Syria.
This is an armed wing of the Iraqi Islamic Movement that was formed in June 2014 in response to ISIS aggression. It is led by Shibl al Zayd who earlier fought in the Mahdi Army under the leadership of Moqtada al-Sadr. This group stands out because its membership draws from the Christian group the Spirit of God Jesus Son of Mary Battalions. Its units participated in operations to recapture Palmyra, in battles for Tikrit, and in the siege of Mosul.
It was formed in 2013 in response to the war in Syria after a dispute with the leadership of Asaib ahl al Haq. The two groups still maintain close ties and often cooperate on the battlefield. It is led by Sheikh Akram al Kaabi, whose ideology is consistent with that of Ayatollah Khamenei.
[He] confirmed that the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which is actively fighting ISIS in Syria, would be equipped with the best weaponry despite the circumstances, “Hezbollah needs to remain armed in order to fight Israel, Lebanon’s enemy. Naturally, they need to be equipped with the best weapons in order to protect Lebanon’s security—this matter is non-negotiable,” he stated. Jafari also added that Tehran would put substantial effort into the ceasefire to end the war in Syria.
Abdullah Abdullah, Head Chief of Afghanistan’s National Unity Government, said on Monday, November 27, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Kabul, “The Afghan government's policy of fighting Daesh (ISIS) is clear. We do not support the presence and participation of Afghans in the war in any country. Hussein Mortazavi, the administrator of the Afghan presidential representative, said: “We are opposed to any proxy war in other countries.”
|KIA Faction||#||KIA Nationality||#|
|KIA Faction||#||KIA Nationality||#|
|Saraya Al Areen||4||Iran||6|
|Imam Al Baqir Brigade||7||Afghanistan||5|
|Al Abaas Forces||1||Pakistan||2|
|KIA Faction||#||KIA Nationality||#|
|Saraya Al Areen||1||Iran||6|
|Saraya Al Khursani||2||Lebanon||12|
|Sayda Zinab Brigade||8||Palestine Basij||9|
|Al Quds Brigade||1|
|Al-Imam Hussein Brigade||2|
2. Major Iranian Economic Activities and Projects
Representatives from Iran attended the ceremony and also Aleppo government and several of military leaders from SAA.
Dr. Ahmed Abadi al-Husseini, director of the Islamic Jihad Organization of Iran, said that the honor of the wounded and wounded from the Syrian Arab Army and the allied forces is "a thank-you gesture, pointing out that the Islamic Jihad Organization of Islamic Jihad continued to pay attention to wounded and sick.
Iran and Syria signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a branch of Islamic Azad University in the city of Aleppo. A deputy head of Iran’s Islamic Azad University, Saleh Eskandari said, “Syrian President Bashar Assad has welcomed the plan to establish a branch of Islamic Azad University (IAU) in Syria.” Assad has called on the related officials, including the board of directors of Iran’s IAU, as well as the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, to pave the way for the establishment of the university after ensuring legal arrangements with the Syrian Ministry For science, he added. Outlining the details of the MoU in a Farsi interview with Fars News Agency, Eskandari also noted that the MoU was signed at a ceremony attended by Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iran’s leader, who was visiting Aleppo to lead a delegation.
A joint meeting of the Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian electricity ministries was held at the Iranian Ministry of Energy in Tehran to sign a protocol to reactivate the tripartite electricity link between the three countries. The first line will be connected to 400 kV / 155 km, of which 25 km from Al Qaim station to the Iraqi-Syrian border, 130 km in Syrian territory up to Al Taym station and the second line 230 KV 42 km through the Syrian Swedish stations and Tel Abu Zaher.
The Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for International Affairs, Leonid Slutsky, announced today (Monday) December 4 that the committees of the Duma and the Iranian parliament would meet to discuss the reconstruction in Syria.
According to "Sputnik" Russian, Slotsky pointed out that the parliamentarians gathered to discuss the activities of "Shiite police" in areas where there is a population of the Shiite community, as he put it.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati, who visited Aleppo last month, stressed his country's readiness to participate in the reconstruction of Syria.
The Minister of Public Works and Housing in the Syrian regime, Hossein Arnous, announced large cooperation agreements between Syria and Iran in several areas, notably reconstruction.
3. Military Appendix
Map (1) International Main Military Bases and Airports - April 2018
The Scientific Research Center in the city of Musayaf was targeted by an Israeli air strike on 7 September 2017. The entry of Israeli aircraft was from Lebanon over Telaklakh, and the Russian S300 system was only 15 km away from the target area and 60 km from the point where the aircraft entered.
Iranian Shahed-129 drone at Hama airbase in Syria on 9 October 2017.
On the same day, the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib was hit by a drone strike. An inside source confirmed that the Iranian drone took off before the hit in 30m.
- 8 November 2017 - Full video released by Hezbollah media shows scale of IRGC group deployment across Iraq-Syria border - https://goo.gl/SVrtX1
- 9 November 2017 - Hezbollah armor and vehicle columns outside of Bukamal - https://goo.gl/kqWX9x
- 18 November 2017 - Shia militia encampments and artillery positions outside Bukamal - https://goo.gl/rvPXc5
- 18 November 2017 - Intense combat between Hezbollah forces and ISIS in Bukamal - https://goo.gl/465Vsw
- 19 November 2017 - Hezbollah media releases video of Qassem Soleimani outside headquarters in Bukamal; claims he led the entire battle - https://goo.gl/kJuQCy
- 23 November 2017 - IRGC and PMU forces at Al Sa'ah Square in Al Bukamal - https://goo.gl/11Nhjb
- 25 November 2017 - 313 Battalion Commander Al Hajj Abu Abbas - https://goo.gl/NUyWna
- 28 November 2017 - Video for the IRGC-sponsored Afghan militia Liwa Fatemiyoun and Pakistani militia Liwa Zainebiyoun, southeast of Deir Ez-zor - https://goo.gl/P7FTJ2
- 29 November 2017 - Iraqi Bell 407 and Mi-35M monitoring the border between Al Qaim and Al Bukamal - https://goo.gl/nsjPEo
- 2 December 2017 - Al Nujaba Movement (Harakat Al Nujaba, PMU and Militias active in Syria) release footage of its recent battles in Al Bukamal City - https://goo.gl/fzHFAj
- 2 December 2017 - Video showing medical team of pro-Iran militias and Iraqi PMU Katiba Imam Ali treating civilians in Abu Kemal - https://goo.gl/564rTp
- 5 December 2017 - Saraya Al Areen forces are in Deir Ez-Zor to support SAA and Allied Forces - https://goo.gl/564rTp
- 6 December 2017 - According to the pro-opposition TV Channel Jisr, 400 Hezbollah militiamen have reached Baath City in Quneitra and taken positions in government buildings and several military positions in the area- https://goo.gl/wY5FXo
- 7 December 2017 - Video of Hezbollah and allies operation against ISIS in Shayir and Ghabrah in Eastern Deir ez-Zor - https://goo.gl/WwDmBP
- 7 December 2017 – Pro-Iran militias lead attack on the western countryside of Al Bukamal https://goo.gl/564rTp
()Basij is a voluntary militia organization established in Iran in November 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini. The official name is Besic Resistance Force. Basij is now a subordinate of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards
On the 14th of April 2018 (The Daily Star) published "Gemma Fox" recent article entitled "Strike a chance for ‘dissed’ Trump to hit back", in the article Nawar oliver Omran Center Military Expert mentioned, he Addressed the possible American strike on Syrian Regime military Site and how Iran military presence might be one of the major targets of American's strike:
*Important Note: The Article was published before the U.S., U.K. and France strike in Syria.
Original Link: https://goo.gl/zJTKBy
Omran Center Military Expert Nawar Oliver contributed on an article entitled "Expert Views: Impact of the Syrian Missile Strike" published on Syria Deeply, Oliver Sid " In my perspective, do you think the Americans, British and French really care about the regime and that the [attack] yesterday was just to prevent the use of chemical weapons? It was part of it. But the main thing is, there was a hidden message to the Russians that despite your existence and massive victories on the ground, we remain part of the game and we will always be part of the political solution".
for More Click here: https://goo.gl/hhmLeb
Omran for Strategic Studies led a panel discussion in Washington, DC on 20 March 2018. The panel in partnership with the American Relief Coalition for Syria, brought together experts from inspiring Syrian humanitarian and research organizations to discuss the current situation in Syria and prospects for a future of peace and stability. Thank you to Karam Foundation, Syrian American Medical Society- SAMS, and Oxfam America for your participation.
On March 26, Hudson Institute hosted a panel to explore U.S. options to realign our allies with traditional NATO and U.S. positions, hold adversaries responsible for atrocities, and prevent security backsliding in the region.
The panel consisted of Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Hillel Fradkin; Hudson Adjunct Fellow Michael Pregent; Senior Intelligence Planner at the Institute for the Study of War Jennifer Cafarella; Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies Ammar Kahf; and President of Soran University Dr. Nahro Zagros.
Nawar Oliver at Omran for strategic Studies, said in his last interview with AFP, "The Syrian regime cut up Ghouta into three zones, to comfortably work on securing three different agreements, and the Syrian regime is justifying this brutal campaign in order to secure the capital, which is regularly battered by rockets and mortars fired from the opposition territory as the regime claim.
According to official statistics, the Turkish Republic hosts nearly 3.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country. A number of studies show that a vast majority of these refugees will remain in Turkey permanently, even if the situation in Syria becomes stable and return becomes a possibility. Despite this trend, however, government institutions and organizations have failed to establish a sustainable framework for integrating Syrian refugees into Turkish society. Although the Turkish government addresses some specific areas of need, many refugees must take responsibility for securing their own livelihoods. Due to a gradual decrease in international aid and the long-term presence of Syrians in Turkey, it has become more difficult for refugees to find suitable employment opportunities. Whereas issues of housing, education, health, and food are related to problems of capacity and bureaucracy, the issue of livelihoods is more closely linked to the legal framework and the perception of Syrian refugee employment among Turkish citizens. This problem is not only a humanitarian issue but a political one, both nationally and globally.
For Syrian refugees, employment is more than a job. It has a significant and sustainable impact on an individual’s life, future, and ability to integrate into a new society. Unemployment, however, is a significant problem in Turkey. Some estimates indicate that working-age people in Turkey account for more than 50 percent of the population, yet the unemployment rate exceeds 17 percent, according to the Livelihood Observatory. Moreover, in response to the influx of Syrian refugees in Turkey, an insufficient amount of funds has been allocated to livelihoods sector to enable Syrians to build their livelihoods in Turkey. According to the 2016-2017 plan of Syria's humanitarian response, the amount of funding available for the livelihoods sector was $11 million (USD), but the funding requirement was $92 million (USD). As a result, the Turkish government has faced significant challenges, creating employment opportunities for Syrian refugees, integrating and organizing refugees in the labor market, and addressing problems between refugees and their employers.
There are a number of obstacles that prevent Syrian refugees from developing their livelihoods. Most notably, legal procedures related to the employment of Syrian refugees lack clarity and integrity. In addition, there is poor communication between Syrian civil society organizations and the Turkish government, as well as a lack of representative bodies demanding employment rights for refugees.
Most Syrians live in Turkey under temporary protected status, which fails to ensure certain protections. In fact, Turkish labor laws that apply to Syrian refugees are inadequate and inefficient. Due to difficult financial conditions, refugees are vulnerable to exploitation, including unfair compensation. In addition, refugees performing physical labor at work face a higher risk of injury, yet some employers do not provide them with health or social insurance.
To overcome existing obstacles, all actors in the livelihoods sector should collaborate to create appropriate mechanisms that enable Syrian refugees to secure jobs and develop their livelihoods. Specifically, the Turkish government should create a database, accessible to all relevant parties, for Syrian employment opportunities and establish appropriate mechanisms to assess the qualifications of Syrian refugees. In addition, the government should implement vocational training programs for secured employment and establish a union for Syrian workers under the supervision of the Turkish Workers Syndicate. The government also should support Syrian refugee recruitment agencies and provide them with necessary funding and facilities. To support small business and micro-enterprisesfor Syrian refugees, government agencies should provide appropriate facilities. They also should facilitate banking and investment procedures for Syrians to expand their ventures and create new jobs, and they should utilize the financial resources and expertise of Syrians abroad in order to develop Syrian livelihoods in Turkey. In addition, the government should establish joint large-scale industrial projects connecting Syrian and Turkish investors.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should identify and develop mechanisms to sustain livelihood programs and ensure their growth. They should establish a cooperative fund to provide small grants to entrepreneurs, and they should conduct community awareness and education campaigns to inform Syrian refugees about their rights and responsibilities in the labor market. In addition, NGOs should establish programs to help at-risk refugees find employment opportunities. They also should create sustainable initiatives that enable coordination and cooperation between Syrian and Turkish employers. These programs should produce joint economic projects in all sectors and support vocational training and rehabilitation programs for Syrian refugees. In addition, these programs should ensure that Syrian refugees are not exploited due to legal status or physical condition.
With the significant and lasting presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey, temporary solutions are no longer viable, especially as more and more refugees enter the labor market. Unless concerned parties in the Turkish government work to develop sustainable solutions, refugees and their host communities will face serious problems, such as increased tension between refugees and the local population, as well as social and economic instability. On the other hand, the employment of refugees will benefit the Turkish workforce and economy, while ensuring a promising future for Syrians in Turkey.
Omran for Strategic Studies and Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) hosted in Geneva a workshop entitled ‘Strategies for State Building in Syria,’ for a focus on centralisation and decentralisation formulas that fit post-war Syria. The workshop is part of the Syria and Global Security Project, jointly run by the GCSP and Omran. The project aims to offer a platform for collective informed discussions on Syria that could build bridges between experts and researchers in order to bring peace and security to Syria and the region.
The workshop brought together 21 experts and researchers from Germany, Norway, Russia, Syria, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States. The participants gathered for two days on 1-2 February, 2018 to exchange views on potential trajectories of state building in Syria. The workshop discussed the geo-strategic context for political reform, as well as, political, administrative, financial and security aspects of centralisation and decentralisation.
For more details, a report on the workshop is planned to be published soon on this website.