This report presents a brief account of latest developments in southern Syria, covering the Daraa and Qunaitera fronts with a specific focus on Iranian involvement from late May until July 17. Prior to the latest escalation along the southern border of Syria, there were reports of an initial agreement between Israel and Russia to push back Iranian and Iranian-backed forces along Syria’s border with Israel. The Iranians reacted by incorporating many of its militias and forces into the Syrian army to continue fighting in the area. Photographs and videos posted on pro-regime media as well as accounts belonging to some of the Iranian-backed militias confirm their involvement. In the final agreement between opposition forces and Russia involving parts of Eastern Daraa and Daraa city, green buses headed to the area to prepare the transportation of a small number of the opposition members to Idlib, while other areas concluded reconciliation agreements. Other areas to the west of Daraa are still going through negotiations to finalize the terms of their agreements. The Russians are pushing for an agreement where minimum number of residents are displaced to Idlib, as a deal to receive them was not concluded with Turkey. At the same time, Iranian forces are pushing for the escalation of attacks to take full control of all southern regions.
In late May 2018, Israel and Russia agreed that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces would vacate areas in southwestern Syria near the Israeli border(). Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that due to the Syrian army’s recent advances, foreign forces should withdraw from Syria and mentioned Turkish, American, Iranian and Hezbollah soldiers specifically when asked to clarify. Iranian Foreign Ministry representative Bahram Qassemi responded that Iran would remain in Syria while terrorism exists and for as long as the Syrian government wants Iranian forces there(). Nevertheless, in order to reduce pressure from Israel, Iranian-backed forces – including some of Hezbollah members – withdrew from areas in southern Syria only to return as integrated units within the Syrian Army structure. Examples of Iranian-backed forces within the Army include the following:
In early June, Russia began deploying troops near territories occupied by Israel, indicating Moscow’s preference for decreased Iranian presence in Syria and despite the dominant presence of Hezbollah in the area. Sources confirmed that Hezbollah was not happy with Russian moves and would demand Russian withdrawal, similar to what happened in Al-Qusir, Homs in the first week of June. Conveying Iranian opinion, Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri told Lebanon’s al-Manar, “Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda measures of anyone,” adding also that Lebanese militias would not leave Syria().
The following is a list of top Iranian-backed militias and forces involved in the escalation of violence in the southern front:
|Militia Name||Origin||Situation in Syria|
|Imam al Baqir Brigade||Syria||Part of LDF|
|Lebanese Hezbollah||Lebanon||Special Forces|
|Saryaa Al-Arin||Syria||Military Security Branch|
|Zu Al-Fiqar Brigade||Iraq||Republican Guard|
|Imam Hussein Brigade||Iraq||Militia|
|Al Quds Brigade||Palestine||Militia|
|Abu Fadl Al-Abba||Iraq||Republican Guard|
|A Taha Regiment||Syria||Tiger Forces|
|Arab National Guard||Mix||Militia|
|Salah Al-Assi groups||Syria||Tiger Forces|
At the end of June, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed forces – with the support of the Russian Air Force – began the attack on Daraa, quickly capturing a number of cities in a matter of days. Following this rapid advance, various towns throughout Daraa accepted reconciliation agreements with the Syrian regime, including the towns of Um Oualad, Saida, Um Mayazin, Taybah, Nassib, Jabib, Ibta, and Da’il. By the first week of July, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed forces along with the Russian military police had surrounded Nasib border crossing after capturing the city itself. According to Information Unit Source, the presence of Russian military police is part of an undeclared agreement between Russia and Jordan to ensure that Iranian-backed militias do not enter through the Nasib Crossing. However, as these militias integrated themselves into different Syrian army groups, it is difficult to monitor their presence in Daraa.
Map (1): Updated Southern Front Control Map - 19 July 2018
Iranian-backed forces suffered a number of casualties during the attack on Daraa, losing more than 50 top-level fighters – among these fighters were those from Hezbollah, as well as Khalil Takhti Nejad, a fighter for the IRGC. Nejad was deployed to Syria as a member of the Imam Sajjad IRGC Hormozgan Provincial Unit and commanded an operation from an unnamed base in a southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, approximately 32 km from Israel’s northern border.
Note: chart only indicates the number of dead among top Iranian-backed militias who participated directly in the recent Daraa battle; information obtained from monitoring pro-regime websites and official militia accounts.
By the second week of July, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias announced that they had captured 520 km2 in Daraa province; 290 km2 from military operations and the remaining 230 km2 following a deal between Russia and the opposition factions. Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias continued to advance along the Syrian-Jordanian border and reached the town of Khrab al-Shahm, facing no resistance from the opposition as most opposition forces had withdrawn from the borderline earlier.
Footage from Daraa battle of Iranian participation
The images below were taken from official media accounts of the participating militias and from pro-regime accounts.
Eastern Daraa Agreement and Western Daraa ongoing Negotiation
The situation in Daraa remains unclear. Four major events that are underway include:
About 20 buses are expected to depart with hundreds of civilians and fighters of Islamic factions with their families. There were about 1400 people expected to depart but the committees which are close to Russia are trying to persuade people to stay instead of evacuating to the north for the following reasons:
Note: In regards to Quneitra, there is no agreement until now and no initial negotiation between the Russian and any faction of the opposition forces. Russian negotiators want HTS to leave its post before starting any kind of negotiations.
The situation is being continually monitored in order to maintain an eye on what changes occur. The opposition’s divided actions will continue to leave it exposed to manipulation by outside forces. The Syrian regime will further its presence in the south by playing off the Israel-Russia-Iran trio; and Jordan will observe silently without exerting much effort in terms of actual fighting with or against any of the parties involved. With Russian forces gaining more ground in Syria whether at the behest of the Syrian regime or by making unilateral moves, it will be crucial – albeit difficult – to observe how Iran proceeds to protect itself and its assets in Syria.
() 29 May 2018 – Telegraph - https://goo.gl/Z5jFUh
() 8 July 2018 – Fares News - https://goo.gl/3KdLpU
() 10 June 2018 – Daily Sabah - https://goo.gl/noyzPV
() 16 July 2018 – Al Masder News - https://goo.gl/zyKA28
On the 29th of June, Omran military expert Navvar Şaban joined the Former brigadier in The strait talk in TRT world talking about the recent development in Syria, mainly about Manbij agreement and the situation in the southern fronts, and at the end of the show Navvar explained how Iran is trying to integrate its current Militias within the structure of the Syrian Forces.
Navvar Saban (Oliver), a military analyst at Omran Center, gave a statement to AFP about Regime and allies claiming that ISIS has been completely defeated, and why it’s inaccurate. Saban discusses the misconception of conflating ISIS' loss of control of urban territory with the groups overall demise. Although places like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor have been ridden of ISIS, the group has relocated into desert areas where it now launches hit-and-run raids on regime and allies locations.
According to Saban , "These attacks will continue, targeting pipelines, main roads, border crossings -- which will give any government a huge headache."
The resource: https://yhoo.it/2sQdPGn
Dr. Ammar Kahf, executive director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies gave his views in a panel discussion about how the US Coalition handled the airstrikes in Raqqa. According to Dr. Kahf, the coalition airstrikes were not planned with as much precision as they could have been and this resulted in an unnecessary number of civilian bombings. Furthermore, Dr. Kahf argues that focusing on airstrikes at the expense of issues like local governance and local issues can have long term negative effects on the perception of US presence in the region.
Updated Influence report and map of Syria 22 June 2018 with % of Gains & Losses in the last 34 Days. Ongoing battles on the Northeast front of Daraa, Regime and allies forces with Russian air support of are trying to control the area to the east of Damascus - Daraa international highway to Nasib crossing gate.
Meanwhile YPG with US support launched a new Military Campaign against ISIS in Southern Hassaka.
Map (1): Areas of Influence - Syria - 22 June 2018
Map (2): Areas of Influence - Syria - 22 June 2018 (Simplified Map)
Map (3): Crossing Gate Control Breakdown and Current Situation
Chart (1): Simplified Percentage of Control (May vs. June) 2018
Note: The charts below show the percentage of total Syrian territory that each faction controls.
Chart (2): Percentage of Syrian Territory Controlled by Opposition Groups
Chart (3): Percentage of Syrian Territory controlled by the YPG
Chart (3): Percentage of Syrian Regime and Allies Control Areas Breakdown
Chart (4): Main International Military Bases and Airports – June 2018
The military expert at Omran Center talked to AFP about the southern front in Syria. Nawar oliver said "The southern front is the first example of international consensus for the regime's return,and It's clear there's a consensus between powers -- the Americans, the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Russians -- that the better choice is for regime forces to deploy there without entering into a military operation".
The resource: https://bit.ly/2Jfa3AA
Mr. Yaser Tabbara talked about the Syrian regime troops, and their allies, had made major gains in Idlib province. Forces loyal to Bashar al Assad say they're targeting terrorists. But tens of thousands of people are fleeing towards the Turkish border, in what could create a new humanitarian disaster.
Omran Center for Strategic Studies’ expert on economic development, Mr. Mohammed Al-Abdullah, participated in the International Refugee Congress in Istanbul, held on May 10-11, 2018. The conference was organized by Oxfam Turkey, and was the first attempt to submit a draft Global Compact on Refugees to the UN by civil society organizations concerned with refugees in all countries of the world. Draft proposals will be submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The meeting brought together experts and civil society actors from around the world to develop policy briefs and help alleviate the burdens and responsibilities of refugees on host countries, and help with policy recommendations for integration of refugees in host markets and communities.
The Congress brought together a diverse group of civil society organizations concerned with refugee issues from several countries to participate in the drafting of a unified Compact to be submitted to the United Nations. The Congress was attended by prominent personalities related to refugee issues from United Nations organizations, international organizations, experts and academics. The conference included several group sessions to discuss among participants and to contribute effectively to highlight priorities from the perspective of refugees.
Additionally, participants were split into smaller groups for specialized mini-panels to focus more on the sub-themes of the conference in order to allow participants to present their ideas and proposals. The panels focused on six key themes: durable solutions and shared responsibility, access to services, legal rights of refugees, women and displacement, representation and participation. At the conclusion of the conference, a joint document was prepared, which included the proposals and recommendations of the participants in these workshops. The conference was attended by 130 participants from 27 countries.
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