Executive Summary

Iran, a major ally and enabler of the Syrian regime, is increasingly engaged in competition over access to the Syrian economy now that there are new opportunities for lucrative reconstruction contracts. This report sheds light on the economic role played by Iran in Syria through its local representatives and Iranian businessmen. It also explores the (limited) impact of the European Union and U.S. Treasury sanctions on Iran's economic instruments in Syria.

Introduction

Iran has invested heavily in the protection of the Syrian regime and the recovery of its territories. Iran’s main objectives in Syria have been to secure a land bridge between its territory and Lebanon, and to maintain a friendly regime in Damascus. Much of Iran’s investment has been military, as it has financed, trained, and equipped tens of thousands of Shi’a militants in the Syrian conflict. But Iran has also made major financial and economic interventions in Syria: it has extended two credit lines worth a total of USD 4.6 billion, provided most of the country's needs for refined oil products, and sent many tons of commodities and non-lethal equipment, notwithstanding the international sanctions imposed on the regime. In exchange for its commitment to ensuring Assad’s survival, Tehran has expected and demanded large concessions in terms of access to the Syrian economy, especially in the energy, trade, and telecommunications sectors.

Key Iranian Companies

Iran has provided crucial economic assistance to the Assad regime in order to prevent its fall and to ensure that it can meet its fuel needs. In return, Iran demanded access to significant investment opportunities in key sectors of the Syrian economy, notably: state property, transportation, telecommunications, energy, construction, agriculture, and food security.

Since 2013, the Iranians have aided Assad through two main channels. First, it extended two lines of credit for the import of fuel and other commodities, with a cumulative value of over USD 4.6 billion. In order to position itself strategically as the lynchpin of the Syrian economy, Iran restricted the benefactors and implementers of these credit lines to its own national companies. It can thus continue to provide the regime with a lifeline in terms of goods and energy supplies, but in return it can control key parts of the Syrian economy.

The following list includes major Iranian companies that have announced a return to business-as-usual in Syria. Each brief overview gives a description of the company’s involvement in Syria, followed by basic information about the company.

Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base

Has demonstrated an interest in carrying out reconstruction work on Syria infrastructure.

Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base is involved in construction projects for Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programs. It is listed by the UN as an entity of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with a role “in Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems” (Annex to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, June 9, 2010). The company is under the command of Brigadier General Ebadollah Abdollahi.

Khatam al-Anbia conducts civil engineering activities, including road and dam construction and the manufacture of pipelines to transport water, oil, and gas. It is also involved in mining operations, agriculture, and telecommunications. Its main clients include the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Oil, Ministry of Roads and Transportation, and Ministry of Defense.

Since the company’s founding in 1990 it has designed and implemented approximately 2,500 projects at the provincial and national levels in Iran. It currently works with 5,000 implementing partners from the private sector. An IRGC official recently revealed that a total of 170,000 people currently work on Khatam al-Anbia’s projects and that in the past 2.5 years it has recruited 3,700 graduates from Iran’s leading universities.

Company officials for Khatam al-Anbia include IRGC General Rostam Qasemi and Deputy Commander Parviz Fatah. Other personnel reportedly include Abolqasem Mozafari-Shams and Ershad Niya.

MAPNA Group

  • Supplying five generating sets for gas and diesel operations (credit line)
  • Construction of a 450 MW power plant in Latakia (credit line)
  • Implementation of two steam and gas turbines for the power plant supplying the city of Baniyas (credit line)
  • Rehabilitation of the first and fifth units at the Aleppo power plant (credit line).

MAPNA is a group of Iranian companies that build and develop thermal power plants, as well as oil and gas installations. The group is also involved in railway transportation, manufacturing gas and steam turbines, electrical generators, turbine blades, boilers, gas compressors, locomotives, and other related products. The Iran Power Plant Projects Management Company (MAPNA) was founded in 1993 by the Iranian Ministry of Energy. Since 2012, the group has been led by Abbas Aliabadi, former Iranian Deputy Minister of Energy in Electricity and Energy Affairs.

In 2015, MAPNA sealed a USD 2.5 billion contract, Iran’s largest engineering deal to date, to supply Iranian technical and engineering services for the construction of a power station in Basra in southern Iraq.

Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (MCI)

A contract to build Syria’s third mobile network (suspended).

MCI is a subsidiary of the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), which is partially owned by the IRGC. MCI brings in approximately 70 percent of TCI’s profits. MCI provides mobile services for over 1,000 cities in Iran and has approximately 66 million Iranian subscribers. It provides roaming services through partner operators in more than 112 countries.

Iranian Companies Active in Syria in 2019

Table 1: List of all Iranian companies with ongoing contracts in Syria - 2019

Name Arabic Name Main Activity Agreement Headquarters Address
Safir Noor Jannat سفير نور جنات Food industries, detergents, and electronics An old MOU dating back to 2015 to supply Syria with flour No. 8, Mohamadzadeh st., Fat-h- highway 4Km. Tehran
Behin Gostar Parsian بهين كستر بارسيان Food industries No information Unit 5. No 14. Shahid Gomnam Street. Fatemi Sq. Tehran

Peimann Khotoot Gostar Company

جزء من مجموعة PARSIAN GROUP

بيهين غوستار بارسيان Electrical power, electronics, and technology 2017 MOU with the batteries companies in Aleppo, the General Company for Metallurgical Industries in Barada, and Sironix, to carry out electricity projects in several locations in Syria. Tehran Province, Tehran, District 22, No: 5, Kaj Blvd, 14947 35511, Iran
Feridolin Industrial & Manufacturing Company شركة فريدولين Electrical appliances No information -----
Tadjhizate Madaress Iran. T.M.I. Co. ---- Decor and furnishings No information No. 198, Dr. Beheshti St., After Sohrevardi Cross Rd., 157783611, Tehran, Iran, Tehran
Trans Boost ترانس بوست Electricity Electrical transformer station (230 66 20 kV) in the Salameh, Hama area ----
B.T.S Company بي تي سي Import and export, and commercial brokerage No information ------
Nestlé Iran P.J.S. Co. شركة نستله Food industries Supply of milk to Syria for the time being 6th Floor, No.3, Aftab Intersection, Khoddami St., Vanak Sq., Tehran, Iran

Recruiting Local Partners (Iran vs. Russia)

Iran and Russia have been competing over the reconstruction of Syria and the potentially lucrative investment opportunities that come with it because both countries hope to recoup some of their outputs from years of supporting the Assad regime and also because both hope to maintain their influence in the post-war era. Both Tehran and Moscow are therefore striving to win over major players in the Syrian political and economic spheres whom they hope to rely on to facilitate their business deals and ensure their respective interests. Consequently, both countries have established economic councils to oversee their ventures and to organize relations with their respective Syrian partners.

The following descriptions of the Syrian-Russian and Syrian-Iranian business councils cover their structures, the total number of members, the most prominent players, and the companies affiliated with their members.

The Syrian-Russian Business Council

The Syrian-Russian Business Council (SRBC) includes 101 Syrian businessmen and a number of Russian counterparts. It is divided into seven committees covering the main sectors of the economy:

  1. Engineering
  2. Oil and gas
  3. Trade
  4. Communications
  5. Tourism
  6. Industry
  7. Transportation

The Syrian membership of the SRBC includes many influential names, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Members of the Syrian-Russian Business Council

Notable Names Total Number of Businessmen
Samir Hasan (Chairman, SRBC) 101
Jamal al-Din Qanabrian (Deputy Chairman, SRBC)
Mohammed Abu al-Huda al-Lahham, (Secretary, SRBC)
Fares al-Shehabi (Businessman)
Mehran Khunda (Businessman)
Bashar Nahad Makhlouf (Businessman)

Of these figures, three are particularly prominent:

  • Jamal al-Din Qanabrian has served as a member of the Consultative Council of Syria’s Council of Ministers since 2017 (the Council presents proposals and consultations to the government on economic and legislative affairs). He is also a member of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Samir Hassan, the chairman of the Syrian-Russian Business Council, is a partner in Sham Holding Company, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf.
  • Mohammed Abu al-Huda al-Lahham, also a member of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, is believed to have strong ties with Dhul-Himma Shalish, the powerful Syrian construction mogul and cousin and personal guard of Hafiz al-Assad.

The SRBC also employs a number of Syrian businessmen of Russian nationality, most notably George Hassouani, who was formerly involved in oil and gas deals with ISIS.

The number of Syrian companies included in the Syrian-Russian Business Council is estimated at 91. These companies are involved in import and export, general trade, textiles, clothing, petrochemicals, energy, and, in a small number of cases, private security operations (see Table 3).

Table 3: Companies in the SRBC

The Syrian-Iranian Business Council

By comparison, Iran has had less success with its business council venture than Russia. The Syrian-Iranian Business Council (SIBC) was established in March 2008, and was initially led by Hassan Jawad. It was reconstituted in 2014 with nine members, as shown below in Table 4.

Table 4: Members of the SIBC

Notable Names Total Number of Businessmen
Samer al-Asaad (President, SIBC) b
Iyad Mohammed (Treasurer, SIBC)
Mazen Hamour (Businessman)
Osama Mustafa (Businessman)
Hassan Zaidou (Businessman)
Khaled al-Mahameed (Businessman)
Abdul Rahim Rahal (Businessman)
Mazen al-Tarazi (Businessman)
Bashar Kiwan(Businessman)

Some of these figures have significant economic influence:

  • Mazen al-Tarazi is a prominent businessman with investments in the tourism sector as well as in real estate (including the project to redevelop Marota City in western Damascus). He has founded a number of companies in Syria, Kuwait, Jordan and elsewhere that offer services in oil well maintenance, advertising, publishing, paper trading, and general contracting. He also owns a number of newspapers, including Al-Hadaf Weekly Classified in Kuwait, Al-Ghad in Jordan, and Al-Waseet in Jordan.
  • Iyad Mohammed is the Head of the Agricultural Section of the Syrian Exporters' Union.
  • Osama Mustafa is a member of the People's Assembly, where he represents Rural Damascus Governorate. He served as Chairman of the regime’s Rural Damascus Chamber of Commerce between 2015-2018.

The number of companies owned by Syrian businessmen who are members of the SIBC board is estimated at 10 (see Table 5).

Table 5: Companies Owned by SIBC Members

Abdul Rahim & Fawzi Rahal Co.

Al-Sharq Bank

Al-Shameal Oil Services Co. 

National Aviation, LLC

Rahal Money Transfer Co. 

Ebdaa Development & Investment Co.

Mazen Hamour International Group

Development Co. for Oil Services

Dagher & Kiwan General Trading Co.

Concord al-Sham International Investment Co.

Because of the relatively small number of Syrian members of the SIBC, Iran is making additional efforts to woe Syrian businessmen. According to private sources, Syrian businessmen are seeking contracts with Iranian companies in return for being granted a share of the value of the contract. Table 6 shows key Syrian figures engaged with Iran.


Table 6: Syrian Businessmen Engaged with Iran

Name Position Name Position

1.Faisal Talal Saif

Head of the Suweida Chamber of Commerce and Industry

2.Mohamed Majd al-Din Dabbagh

Head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce

3.Jihad Ismail

Head of the Quneitra Chamber of Commerce and Industry

4.Abdul Nasser Sheikh al-Fotouh

Head of the Homs Chamber of Commerce

5.Tarif al-Akhras

Head of the Deir Ezzor Chamber of Commerce and Industry

6.Osama Mostafa

Head of the Rural Damascus Chamber of Commerce

7.Adeeb al-Ashqar

Merchant from the Damascus Chamber of Commerce

8.Kamal al-Assad

Head of Latakia Chamber of Commerce and Industry

9.Albert Shawy

Merchant

10.Hamza Kassab Bashi

Head of Hama Chamber of Commerce

11.Amal Rihawi

Director of International Relations at the Commercial Bank of Syria

12.Mohammed Khair Shekhmous

Head of the Hasaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry

13.Elias Thomas

Merchant

14.Wahib Kamel Mari

Head of the Tartous Chamber of Commerce and Industry

15.

Merchant

16.Qassem al-Maslama

Head of the Daraa Chamber of Commerce and Industry

17.Saeb Nahas

Merchant

18.Aws Ali

Merchant

19.Ghassan Qallaa

Head of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce

20.Iyad Abboud

General Manager of MOD

21.Louay Haidari

Merchant

22.Ayman Shamma

Merchant

23.Mohamed Hamsho

Secretary-General of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce

24.Bassel al-Hamwi

Merchant

25.Mohamed Sawah

Head of the Syrian Exporters Union

26.Khaled Sukar

Merchant

27.Mohamed Keshto

Head of the Union of Agricultural Chambers

28.Sami Sophie

Director of the Latakia Chamber of Commerce and Industry

29.Marwa al-Itouni

Head of Syrian Businesswomen

30.Salman al-Ahmad

Union of Syrian Agricultural Chambers

31.Mustafa Alwais

Rami Makhlouf 's partner

32.Samir Shami

Syrian Exporters Union

33.Nahed Mortadi

Merchant

34.Gamal Abdel Karim

Merchant

35.Nidal Hanah

Merchant

36.Zuhair Qazwini

Merchant

37.George Murad

Merchant

38.Mohammed Ali Darwish

Merchant

39.Ghassan al-Shallah

Merchant

40.Nasouh Sairawan

Merchant

41.Mousan Nahas

Merchant

42.Anwar al-Shammout

Owner of Sham Wings Co.

43.Mounir Bitar

Merchant

44.Bashar al-Nouri

Merchant

45.Abdullah Natur

Merchant

46.Sawsan al-Halabi

Director of a construction company

47.Tony Bender

Merchant

48.Manaf al-Ayashi

Foodco for Food Industries

49.Maysan Dahman

Merchant

50.Khaled al-Tahawi

Merchant

51.Samer Alwan

Blue Planet Energy Co.

52.Saied Hamidi

Oil and gas sector

53.Roba Minqar

Clothing industry

54.Randa Sheikh

Clothing industry

55.Harout Dker-Mangi

Merchant

56.Alya Minqar

Merchant

Iran’s Role in Key Sectors

Iran seeks to obtain lucrative investment opportunities in different sectors of the Syrian economy, whether through tenders or monopolies. The main sectors in which Iran is trying to get full access are: agriculture, tourism, industry, reconstruction, and private security.

Agriculture

  • Iran’s ability to match Russia’s investments in the Syrian agricultural sector has been significantly limited by the international sanctions imposed upon it. Since 2013 Iran has extended Syria two credit lines with the total value of USD 4.6 billion, aimed mostly at agriculture. Here is a list of Iranian investments in the sector:
  • Supply of wheat since 2015 through the Safir Nour Jannat company"سفیر نور جنت".
  • An agreement with the Syrian government to establish a joint company to export surplus Syrian agricultural products.
  • An investment of USD 47 million for the second phase of implementation of the Iranian credit line to establish a plant to produce animal food, vaccines, and poultry products.
  • A contract to build five mills in Syria at a cost of US 82 million in the provinces of Suweida and Daraa.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Syrian General Organization of Sugar (Sugar Corporation) to establish a sugar mill and a sugar refinery in Salha in Hama in 2018.
  • A 2018 MOU between the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Agriculture and the Iranian companies Nero and ITM for the import and distribution of 3,000 tractors.

Tourism

The tourism sector is considered one of the most vital sectors in the Syrian economy: it constituted a 14.4 percent share of Syria’s GDP in 2011 (US 64 billion). It has of course been heavily affected by the war, and tourism revenues decreased from SYP 297 billion (around USD 577 million) in 2010 to SYP 17 billion (around USD 33 million) in 2015, while tourism infrastructure suffered a loss of nearly SYP 14 billion (around USD 27 million) over that same period.

Tehran’s investment in Syria’s the tourism sector has been mostly in religious tourism. For instance, the Syrian Minister of Tourism signed a MOU with the Iranian Hajj Organization in 2015 to bring Iranians and others into Syria for religious tours. There are now estimated to be 225,000 religious tourists from Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf countries visiting Syria each year, and they bring in around SYP two billion (around USD 3.9 million) in revenue.

Industry

The industrial sector contributed 19 percent of Syria’s GDP in 2011, and has suffered losses estimated at USD 100 billion during the war. Iran has several industrial facilities in Syria. These are concentrated in the automobile sector, where they include the Syrian-Iranian International Motor Company and Siamco. Iran has also invested in the glass industry in Adra industrial city. The Iranian Saipa group announced a growth in sales of 11 percent in 2017 in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan. Car sales in Syria reached a significant level: although it was a third of 2018 sales in Iraq so far, 50,000 cars were sold in Syria last year.

Iran has tried to obtain contracts from the Syrian government in the industrial sector, and a number of MOUs have been signed. They include:

  • A 2017 MOU between the Iranian company Bihin Ghostar Persian and General Organization for Engineering Industries to rehabilitate several companies: General Company for Metallic Industries–Barada (located in al-Sabinahis a town in southern Syria, administratively part of the Rural Damascus Governorate), SYRONICS (located in Damascus) and the battery factory in Aleppo.
  • A 2017 MOU between the Syrian Cement and Building Materials Company in Hama and the Yasna Trading Company of Iran for the supply of spare parts.

In 2018, the Syrian-Iranian Business Council submitted a proposal for the participation of Iranian companies in the rehabilitation of Syria’s public industrial sector. In addition, the Iranian Ministry of Industry has expressed a wish to establish a cement production company in Aleppo as part of the second phase of implementation of the Iranian credit line.

Reconstruction and Infrastructure

The construction sector contributed 4.2 percent of Syria’s GDP in 2011 and then suffered a losses of USD 27 billion over the next six years. Syrian infrastructure has taken a similarly heavy hit as a result of the conflict, with losses valued at around at USD 33 billion, including over three million destroyed houses or housing units.

Iran’s interests in reconstruction—as with tourism—have a religious tinge and are mainly focused on the areas around sacred Shi’a shrines. For instance, Iran has been asking the Syrian regime for large concessions in Daraya, the old city of Damascus, Sayida Zainab, and Aleppo. Thus far Iran has mostly relied on Syrian intermediaries to purchase real estate, businessmen such as Bashar Kiwan, Mazen al-Tarazi, Mohammad Jamul, Saeb Nahas, Muhammad Abdul Sattar Sayyid, Daas Daas, Firas Jahm, Nawaf al-Bashir, and Mohammad al-Masha'li. Tehran has also relied on Syrian associations such as Jaafari, Jihad al-Binaa, the al-Bayt Authority, and “the Committee for the Reconstruction of the Holy Shrines" to expand and acquire new land in or near the holy sites in Damascus, Deir Ezzor, and Aleppo.

Sanctions against Syria and their Effect on Iran

The ongoing conflict in Syria has prompted international outcry and condemnation, as well as a long list of "red lines" and sanctions. The sanctions currently in place against Syria include an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the Syrian central bank's assets within the European Union, and export restrictions on equipment and technology that might be used for repression of Syrian civilians.

The problem with the sanctions on Syria is that they are ill suited to address the situation, in which sanctions are unlikely to work due to the ongoing war. The EU took significant steps very early in the Syrian conflict, essentially deploying its entire sanctions toolbox in less than one year, in contrast to its more common step-by-step sanctions approach. After a few years, the EU realized that this approach was rushed and ineffective and was forced to backtrack on some measures. This learning process showed the EU that an arms embargo is not necessarily the best first way to address a conflict situation.

Appendix

Syrian Companies Affiliated with Iran

Name Arabic Name Main Activity Agreement

Abdul Rahim & Fawzi Rahal Co.

شركة عبد الرحيم وفوزي رحال معمل مواد بناء، تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير حماة/طيبة الإمام، سوريا.
Ebdaa Development & Investment Co. شركة إبداع للتطوير والاستثمار تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير ريف دمشق

Development Co. for Oil Services

شركة التنمية لخدمات النفط الخدمات النفطية ------
Obeidi for Construction & Trade شركة عبيدي وشريكه للتجارة والمقاولات تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير، المقاولات فندق الداما روز بدمشق
Talaqqi Company شركة تلاقي تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير، مستحضرات التجميل دمشق، كفرسوسة، عقار رقم 2463/ 87
Nagam al-Hayat Company شركة نغم الحياة تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير، الخدمات الاستشارية ريف دمشق، يلدا/ دف الشوك/ العقار رقم 507
IBS for Security Services ---- --- ---
Al-Hares for Security Services شركة الحارس للخدمات الأمنية خدمات الأمن والحماية الشخصية دمشق
Mobivida L.L.C شركة موبي فيدا تجارة الأجهزة الإلكترونية، الهواتف المحمولة والإكسسوار، وتطوير خدمات الهواتف والإنترنت دمشق
Al-Mazhor Company for Construction شركة المظهور التجارية تجارة عامة، استيراد وتصدير، المقاولات دير الزور
Al Najjar & Zain Travel & Tourism Company شركة النجار وزين" للسياحة والسفر السياحة الدينية نبل، مقابل مستوصف نبل عبارة الضرير / محافظة حلب

 

Top Syrian Businessmen Affiliated with Iran

Under EU Sanctions? Under U.S. Sanctions? Visited Abu Dahbi(UAE) in Jan 2019? Main Position Closeness of Relationship with Iran Name in Arabic Name
- Yes Yes Secretary-General of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce High محمد حمشو Mohammad Hamsho
- - - Member of Syrian Parliament High حسين رجب Hussein Ragheb
- - - Businessman High حسان زيدو Hassan Zaidou
- Yes Yes Member of Syrian Parliament High محمد خير Muhammad Kheir Suriol
- Yes Yes Member of Syrian Exporters Union High إياد محمد Iyad Muhammad
- Yes Yes Manager of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce High فراس جيكلي Firas Jijkli
- - - Chairman of the Supreme Committee for Investors in the Free Zone High فهد درويش Fahd Darwish
- - - Syrian Ambassador to Iran High عدنان محمود Adnan Mahmoud
- - - Businessman Medium عامر خيتي Amer Khiti
- - - Businessman High علاء الدين خير بيك Alla Ed din Khair Bik
- - - Businessman Low جورج مراد George Murad
- Businessman Low منير بيطار Munir Bitar
Yes Yes - Works in SDF-controlled area and has relationship with Samir al-Foz High محمد القاطرجي Mohamed al-Qtrji
- - - Businessman High علي كامل Ali Kamil
- - Yes Al-Matin Group General Manager Medium لبيب إخوان Labib Ikhwan
- - - Businessman High سامر علوان Samir Alwan
- - - Businessman Medium ناهد مرتضى Nahid Murtda
- - - Businessman Medium مصان النحاس Musan al-Nahas
- - Yes Businessman High ربى منقار Ruba Munqar
- - - Businessman Low هاروت ديكرمنيجان Harot Dikrmnjyan
Category Reports

Nawar Oliver, Omran Center military expert and the Information Unit manager on 2nd of Aug 2019, gave his remarks to the AFP about  Russian Truce in Idlib and Hama and the initial reaction of some Opposition factions.
Oliver added, “Russia will continue to bomb civilians locations and carry out massacres, and keep on supporting the Regime ground attack during this ceasefire , The Russian has a long bad history when it comes to ceasefires with the oppositions faction, such as in Eastern Ghouta, Northern Homs, and Daraa.

Source: https://yhoo.it/2Yrc3NW

Category Media Appearance

Executive Summary

  • Before May 2013, private security companies’ tasks and activities in Syria were basically limited to securing shopping malls, banks, and concerts.
  • The growing need for legal armed forces not bound by government regulation led to the issuance of Legislative Decree No. 55.
  • The Syrian regime’s international allies (Iran and Russia) found what they were looking for in the private security companies.
  • Iran used private security companies to institute Iranian presence and influence in sensitive areas in Syria without worrying about whether they can maintain this presence in the future, because private security companies are part of a registered Syrian company.
  • Iran used these security companies to maintain presence on the strategic (Baghdad-Damascus) highway in the eastern desert of Syria.
  • Russia used private security companies to legalize some local militia fighters that it recruited due to the lack of Syrian army manpower.
  • After the reconciliation of some ex-Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions with the Syrian government, Russia had limited choices regarding how it could use these reconciled fighters. At first, Russia used the 5th Corps, which created issues because many Syrian army forces refused to fight alongside ex-FSA fighters. That pushed the Russian military to use these private companies such as the “ISIS Hunters” in order to mobilize and take advantage of the ex-FSA manpower.

Introduction

There are many private security companies in Syria. These companies provide special protection for anyone who needs security services. Some of these companies provide types of services that do not fall under the category of “security” and are instead more like private military operations, such as role played by the “ISIS Hunters” against ISIS in the Syrian desert.

On 5 August 2013, the Syrian president issued Legislative Decree No. 55 regarding licenses for private protection and security companies. Before Decree No. 55, the number of the private security companies in the country was limited. The few private security companies that did exist were primarily funded by well-known businessmen and their main duties were providing security to banks, shopping malls, and sometimes musical concerts. Starting in early 2017, new private security companies began to emerge with much important tasks as well as stronger international allies or even foreign indirect ownership.([1])

Legislative Decree No. 55 of 2013

Agencies and sectors that are concerned with Legislative Decree No. 55:

  • Ministry of Interior
  • National Security Office
  • Companies working in the field of protection, private custody, and the transfer of valuables such as money, jewelry, and precious metals.

In order to receive a license, a private security company must meet the following conditions:

  • Be fully owned by holders of Syrian Arab nationality.
  • Have capital of no less than fifty million Syrian pounds (SP).
  • Its headquarters must be in the same area of operations.
  • Be registered in the Commercial Register.

Additionally, the owners, partners, and management of the company shall be required to:

  • Have been an Arab-Syrian for at least five years.
  • Be at least 35 years of age.
  • Have at least a high school certificate.
  • Have no expulsion or dismissal from public service on their record.

Private security companies are classified into three categories:

1st category: companies that have 801 guards and above.

2nd category: companies that have between 501-800 guards.

3rd category: companies that have between 300-500 guards.

Top Private Security Companies and their International Allies

English Name Arabic Name License Date HQ International Relations
Professionals Company شركة المحترفون 29 April 2012 Damascus Independent
Shorouk شركة شروق 12 November 2012 Damascus Independent
Al-Husn شركة الحصن 23 March 2013 Latakia Independent
Qasioun شركة قاسيون 28 October 2013 Damascus Iran
IBS IBS 27 November 2013 Damascus Iran
Al-Watania شركة الوطنية 28 March 2016 Damascus Russia
ISIS Hunters صيادين الدواعش 16 March 2017 Hama Russia
Al-Qalaa شركة القلعة 10 October 2017 Damascus Iran
Al-Areen شركة العرين 19 October 2017 Damascus Russia
Sanad شركة سند 22 October 2017 Damascus Russia
Fajr شركة فجر 02 January 2018 Aleppo Iran
Alpha شركة ألفا 15 February 2018 Aleppo Iran
Al-Hares شركة الحارس 08 May 2018 Damascus Iran

The power of each company is related to the number of secured locations it has, the type of operations it does, and the weapons and armored vehicles that it owns.

Shorouk Company for Security Services (Independent)

Shorouk was established on 12 November 2012. It is run by retired state security officers and its guards have played a major role in suppressing many demonstrations in Damascus. The company has maintained its independence despite the fact that Iran has made several offers to the company’s board members to try and gain their loyalty. Shorouk’s headquarters is in the governorate building in al-Zahra, Damascus.

Shorouk Company Board Members
Retired Brigadier General Gamal el-Din Habib
Retired Brigadier Brigadier Ragheb Hamdoun
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ali Younis

These officers, known for their good relations with Hafez Makhlouf and Yasser Qashlq, played an essential role in the events of Hama in 1982. The most important of these officers is Ali Younis, who was the most powerful figure in state security before retiring as a lieutenant.

Main Contracts in 2017/2018
Name Location
Al-Khair markets Ein Tarma - Damascus countryside
Restaurant and nightclub Areas Bab Touma in Damascus city
Sham City Kafr Suseh in Damascus city
Cusco Mark Restaurant chain in Damascus and Aleppo cities
Ski Land Shami Village
Al-Badia Cement Factory Abu Shammat area in al-Dumayr

Shorouk has more than 2,000 employees, including the administrative and security personnel, and they all wear a special uniform with a logo of the company.

The security personnel are paid according to their specific tasks, with a salary range between 1,500 to 4,000 SP per day.

ISIS Hunters (Affiliated With Russia)

ISIS Hunters is a private security company formed, funded, and trained by the Russian military in Latakia to fight ISIS in the Syrian desert on the beginning of 2017, and after that the Wagner group took over responsibility for their training. ([2])

Originally, the ISIS Hunters’ main task was protecting the liberated gas and oil fields in western Palmyra, along with the weapons storage facilities near the T-4 Military Airport.

However, the activities of the ISIS Hunters quickly expanded into combat engagements including the liberation of the city of Palmyra and then crossing the Euphrates to clear ISIS from its eastern bank.

In its initial stages, the ISIS Hunters served more as a private entity within the Syrian Army (Russian military advisor in Khmeimim airbase instructed that) and its only task was to fight ISIS. This role changed after the company’s official registration in March 2017 under Decree 55.

In 2018, ISIS Hunters became more like a private security company but they maintained special privileges to use the army’s equipment because of their initial role fighting ISIS.

After the Syrian military and its allies captured Palmyra in 2017, the Russian-backed ISIS Hunters were tasked with guarding the town against the return of ISIS, clearing the environs, retaking the Palmyra gas fields, and keeping roads such as the Homs-Palmyra highway open. When the Syrian military and its allies lifted the siege of the Deir Ezzor military airport on 10 September 2017, the ISIS Hunters were occupied with clearing the area around Kusham on the east bank of the Euphrates, around 15 kilometers southeast of Deir Ezzor city. On 17 November 2017, the ISIS Hunters announced that they had fully secured Kate Island north of the city of Deir Ezzor and captured 250 ISIS fighters.

Currently, the ISIS Hunter main tasks include: securing the pipelines in eastern Homs, maintaining a presence in al-Talaa Camp in Deir Ezzor, and securing all the checkpoints between the Syrian regime and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor province. Their most recent military activity was a very limited role in the battles of Eastern Ghouta in 2018.

Al-Qalaa Company for Security Services (Affiliated with Iran)

Al-Qalaa Company was established on 10 October 2017 and is managed by the Syrian businessman Mohammed Dirki. Like several other similar companies, in the beginning al-Qalaa had a very limited scope of work. In February 2018, a group of security men and women from al-Qalaa in black uniforms equipped with small machine guns were spotted in the Sayyida Zainab Distract of Damascus. Their main role was to secure a Shi’ite convoy from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq that was visiting the Shi’ite holy sites. Iran’s main reason for creating and funding al-Qalaa was to protect these pilgrimage convoys, after several incidents in which Shi’ite convoys were targeted by in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Damascus city.

After the Syrian military and its allies recaptured more of the Syrian desert and Eastern Homs Desert they simply required more forces to secure these areas, in April 2018 the Syrian Interior Ministry (and Russia) approved al-Qalaa to be equipped with advanced weaponry in order to assist other groups such as the ISIS Hunters in securing the road, pipelines, and other locations in the desert.

Immediately after al-Qalaa was granted this contract, they received 25, 4x4 advanced trucks equipped with heavy machine guns, and were deployed to eastern Homs, southern Raqqah, and parts of the main Deir Ezzor-Homs highway.

Short Promotion video published on April 2018, https://goo.gl/c9ErhM

During the 2018 Damascus International Fair, al-Qalaa general manager talked about how the company had expanded their services and starting in May 2018, they provided the following:

  1. Protection of facilities.
  2. Protection of Shi’ite convoys.
  3. Protection of commercial convoys.
  4. Engineering Unit.
  5. Anti-Narcotics Unit.
  6. Emergency Unit.
  7. Support Unit for military operations.

([1]) Indirect ownership: the company only provides security tasks for Iran and Russia, despite being owned and managed by Syrians.

([2]) "Wagner group" is a Russian paramilitary organization associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and close associate of President Vladimir Putin. Vagner commanders have fought for the company both in Syria and, before that, in support of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Category Reports
 
This updated map of Idlib Province and its surroundings (Western Aleppo and Northern Hama), shows areas of control and locations of Turkish, Russian, and Iranian observation posts that resulted from the Astana process. The map also highlights the locations of the following key actors and high-risk areas:
 

Map 1: Updated situation map of Idlib, western Aleppo and northern Hama

  1. Iranian-backed militias’ military bases.
  2. Russian military police checkpoints around Idlib province.
  3. International Highways crossing Idlib province (M4 and M5).
  4. International border crossings with their current operating status and internal border crossings with their current operating status.
  5. Areas targeted by regime forces, Russian air force, and Iranian-backed militias’ artillery in August 2018.
  6. Sites of IEDs and assassination incidents that occurred in Idlib and western Aleppo Province in August 2018.

Notes:

-       M4 and M5 highways are considered one of the main strategic targets for any possible attacks from the Regime and his Iranian allies.

-       Internal border crossings are trading hubs between areas under regime control and areas under opposition control. Currently these borders are closed by the regime for different reasons, except "Qalat Al-Madiq" in Sahel Al-Ghab was partially opened in the last few days to allow the last IDPs convoy from the south to enter Idlib.

-       On 13 August, Russian Military Police took over both "Qalat Al-Madiq and Mourek" corresponding internal border crossing sites in regime areas replacing the Syrian Army’s 4th Division (Affiliated with Iran).


 

Category Reports

Navvar Saban "Oliver" at Omran for strategic Studies Military Expert and the Information Unit manager, recent interview entitled "Syrian refugees are unwelcome in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights" by TRTWorld via lcmporter, in the article Saban talked the following points:

1-      1. Russia is pushing for reconciliation – they want people and fighters to stay in their cities

2-      2. They don’t want to create some kind of a gap that will be filled by Iran-backed militias.

3-      3. Whenever there is a gap because of evacuation, Iran-backed militias are expert now in filling this gap.

That is a major problem for the Russians right now, especially in the south.

Source: https://goo.gl/VVobsC

Category Media Appearance

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.

Background

In late May 2018, Israel and Russia agreed that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces would vacate areas in southwestern Syria near the Israeli border([1]). 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([2]). 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:

  • 313th Brigade: This brigade is stationed at the Cultural Center in the city of Azra. Brigade fighters withdrew from the city of Daraa in the first week of June and went back to their main base in Sa'Sa.
  • Quneitra Hawks: This force is comprised of 200 fighters and was affiliated with Lebanese Hezbollah. It was initially de-mobilized in Khan Arnabeh and then immediately regrouped and joined the 7th Division of the Syrian Army.
  • Iranian-backed militias are now stationed in the hills surrounding the towns of Tel Musabah, Tel Arabad, Tel Marz, Tel Ghassem and Tel Ghashim, before they were divided into three units and re-deployed.
  • A group of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were deployed to the town of Khan Arnebeh as part of the 5th Division.
  • Al Ghith Forces: This force is affiliated with the 4th Division and was deployed in Khdir Village, on the west side of Majdal Shams.
  • Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade: This brigade withdrew from Eastern Ghouta and moved towards Damascus, only to return after a few days. It is now stationed at Khan Aranbeh and Al-Baath City in Quneitra, at the base of the 10th Brigade in Qantara. Information Unit Sources confirmed the existence of a training camp for the fighters of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas in Qalmoun, which includes Afghan and Pakistani fighters. The objective of the camp is to send them to the southern front until the Syrian government prepares new identity cards for these fighters as Syrian citizens.

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([3]).

Attack Stage

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
IRGC Iran Military supervision

 

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.[4]

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:

  1. Green buses are waiting in pro-regime areas in Izra to transport a small amount of the opposition to Idlib as part of Friday’s 6th of July reconciliation agreement.
  2. Opposition commanders in the east and west are divided about what to do next. A commander([5]) in the east stated that opposition fighters would be responsible for the security situation in east Daraa for six months alongside Russian military police. At the same time, opposition forces in western Daraa rejected the agreement that took place in the east and announced they would hold their ground for now. A number of commanders escaped from Daraa to Jordan, including Bashar al-Zu'bi, Abu Omar Zaghloul, Raed Radi, Emad Abu Zureiq, Morhaf Al-Aboud, Anas Al-Zaeym, Ziad Al-Ghorani, Iyad Kaddour, Ziad Hariri Al-Bardan, and Abu Sidra Mashhour Canacry.
  3. Jordanian military commander Gen. Khaled al-Massa’id said reopening the Nasib border crossing would benefit both countries, in both security and economic aspects([6]).
  4. On 15 July, the first batch of civilians and fighters displaced from Daraa city arrived to Qalaat al-Madiq in Northern Hama. This batch consisted of 9 buses and 2 ambulances carrying at least 430 civilians and fighters.

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:

  • Russians do not want Aleppo and Deir Ezzor experience to repeat itself, and allow Iranian backed forces to fill the gap in any displaced area.
  • Russians tried to preserve the solid security situation in Daraa by transforming some of the opposition forces into local security forces responsible of protecting their own cities.

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.


([1]) 29 May 2018 – Telegraph - https://goo.gl/Z5jFUh

([2]) 8 July 2018 – Fares News - https://goo.gl/3KdLpU

([3]) 10 June 2018 – Daily Sabah - https://goo.gl/noyzPV

([4]) These number from monitoring Pro Regime and Iranian backed militias account, and also by special report from the Information Unit Ground Sources

([5]) 10 July 2018 – Skype Interview by the Information unit with a commander from the Southern Front

([6]) 16 July 2018 – Al Masder News - https://goo.gl/zyKA28

Category Reports

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:

  1. The Strike would not be about chemical weapons but rather “an excuse” to target Iran, which the country’s leaders have wanted to do for some time.
  2. Iran now has at least nine key military bases and seven observation posts throughout Syria – an indication of Tehran’s growing influence in the country.
  3. An attack on an Iranian target, may therefore satisfy the need for a response while not necessarily upsetting Russia to the point of military retaliation, even though angry public statements will be inevitable.
  4. Such a strike, for the U.S., U.K. and France, means “they can hit two birds with one stone,” he said, striking Russia and Iran while “showing to the world that they care.”

*Important Note: The Article was published before the U.S., U.K. and France strike in Syria.

Original Link: https://goo.gl/zJTKBy

 

Category News

Iran has continued its attempts to expand in southern Syria despite international agreements aimed at curbing its role in the area. Russian and American the influential countries in southern Syria consider the arrival of Iranian militias to the Jordanian-Syrian border and the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to be “a red line,” which has necessitated direct interventions. Despite this, Iran has continued its expansion as part of the encirclement, which it has pursued in recent months.

Quneitra Front and Western Ghouta Battle Timeline (November – December)

  • November 3, Regime Forces and Hezbollah repelled a large attack of HTS, in "Hadr" city in the northern side of the Golan Heights.
  • 17 November, Israeli tank attacks Hezbollah “Qars Nafal” position between "Hadr" & "Ain Teenah" position, in the western side of Quneitra.
  • 23 November, Hezbollah takes control of South "Beit Tima" after taking control of "Halef shor" and "Tell Al Teen."
  • 30 November, Hezbollah and Regime forces established full control over the strategic hills of "Taloul Barda’yah" near the occupied Golan Heights.
  • 10 December, Hezbollah and Regime forces have secured their recent gains in the Beit Jinn pocket in southern Syria.
  • 13 December, According to pro-regime Medias, Regime forces, and allies will continue their operations in the area until they liberate the entire pocket or local militants accept a withdrawal agreement to Idlib.
  • 17 December, Members (HTS) have reportedly started withdrawing from the village of "Maghr Al Meer" to the town of "Beit Jinn" in southern Syria.
  • 19 December, According to pro-regime sources, Regime Forces, and Allies reached the eastern entrance to the village of "Maghar Al Meer." However, they were not able to enter the village because they failed to capture the nearby height – Tal Marwan (Marwan Hill).

Brigade 313 "IRGC New Military Formation"

In November 2017, Daraa province has witnessed surprising competition between Iran and Regime forces around the conscription of Syrian young men from the province, as well as the formation of a new force, Brigade 313, which is under the authority of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Despite the Iranian-led brigade only being around for a number of months, it has attracted more than 200 young men; members who were conscripted for the formation were young men from Daraa who were known to work on behalf of the regime, who were currently promoting the force based on its benefits, and the salary, which its members received.

Enlistment takes place at the Brigade 313 headquarters in the city of Sa'Sa', and new members receive an ID, which has the logo of the Revolutionary Guard, ensuring his ability to pass through Regime forces checkpoints.

Category Reports

During the same week the U.S. and Russia declared victory over ISIS in Syria, the militant group launched a series of surprise attacks around the country. Despite the triumphant claims of world leaders, these offensives suggest such statements are a little premature.

The same day that President Vladimir Putin declared victory over the so-called Islamic State, the militant group launched a surprise offensive against government forces in Deir Ezzor province, killing up to 31 pro-government fighters in the following three days.

“In just over two years, Russia’s armed forces and the Syrian army have defeated the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists,” Putin told Russian forces on Monday during a visit to Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria, before ISIS attacked government positions north of the town of Boukamal, a former key stronghold for the militants.

U.S. President Donald Trump made similar victory claims on Tuesday while signing the National Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill, he said, “authorizes funding for our continued campaign to obliterate ISIS. We’ve won in Syria … but they [ISIS] spread to other areas and we’re getting them as fast as they spread.”

The following day, however, ISIS militants engaged in clashes with a Pentagon-backed rebel group near a U.S. base in al-Tanf in southwest Syria. Militants near the Palestinian Yarmouk camp south of Damascus also launched an attack on government positions in the nearby al-Tadamon neighborhood, seizing 12 buildings. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described it as the largest offensive south of the capital “in months.”

           A map of control showing territory held by ISIS south of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

By Omran for strategic studies -Nawar Oliver

While it’s unclear if ISIS timed the attacks as a response to the U.S. and Russian statements, the militant’s new offensives serve as a reminder that it may be too soon to sound the death knell for ISIS in Syria, experts said.

At the height of its power in 2015, ISIS commanded territory in Iraq and Syria larger than the size of Ireland. This year, however, separate Russian and U.S. military campaigns pushed militants out of all their major strongholds across the two countries. While Putin and Trump call this a complete defeat others remain skeptical.

“I think that there’s a bit of ambiguity and confusion with regard to what a defeat might look like,” Simon Mabon, a lecturer in international relations at Lancaster University and co-author of The Origins of ISIS, told Syria Deeply.

“Whilst some will talk of a military defeat and the liberation of Syrian-Iraqi territory, the bigger and arguably much trickier struggle is about defeating the ideology and preventing the group – or a manifestation of it – from re-emerging,” Mabon said.

Earlier this month, Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian military officer claimedthat “not a single village or district in Syria under the control of ISIL.

According to the SOHR, ISIS still controls 3 percent of Syrian territory, or 5,600 square kilometers (2,162 square miles). ISIS is present in southern Damascus, in “large parts” of the Yarmouk camp as well as in parts of the al-Tadamon and al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhoods, where they are battling government forces.

ISIS is also active in desert regions east of the government-held town of Sukhana in Homs province as well as in a small enclave in northeast Hama, where it is engaged in fighting with the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance.

A map of control showing territory held by ISIS in Hama province.

By Omran for strategic studies -Nawar Oliver

Militants also control at least 18 towns and villages in Deir Ezzor province, where it is battling both the Syrian government and the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. In Syria’s southern province of Daraa, ISIS controls a small enclave close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where it has previously clashed with rebel forces.

A map of control showing territory held by ISIS in the southern province of Daraa.

By Omran for strategic studies -Nawar Oliver

Some White House staff and French President Emmanuel Macron said they were wary of Russia’s claim of victory on the ground. “We think the Russian declarations of ISIS’ defeat are premature,” an unidentified White House National Security Council spokeswoman told Reutersin a report published Tuesday.

“We have repeatedly seen in recent history that a premature declaration of victory was followed by a failure to consolidate military gains, stabilize the situation, and create the conditions that prevent terrorists from reemerging,” she said.

The militant’s last vestiges of territory are coming under severe strain by a wide array of rivals. It is only a matter of time before militants are driven to rugged hideouts in Homs and in the Euphrates Valley region. But as military battles subside across the country, a slow-grinding and methodical campaign should kick off to prevent an ISIS resurgence.

“To properly talk of a victory over the group, the conditions that gave rise to them must be eradicated. By that, I mean that people must improve their living conditions, be granted better access to political structures and to be able to exert their agency in whatever way they wish,” Mabon said.

“To fully defeat ISIS, such conditions must be addressed, preventing grievances from emerging that force people to turn to groups such as ISIS as a means of survival,” he added.

However, with military operations against militants still underway, there has yet to be any significant attempt to battle the ideological residues of the group or address the grievances that led to its emergence.

In an attempt at countering ISIS’ ideology, activists and Islamic scholars set up the Syrian Counter Extremism Center (SCEC)in the countryside of Aleppo in October. However, the so-called terrorist rehabilitation center has limited funding, giving it little ability to prevent the return of ISIS, especially after hundreds of ISIS-affiliated militants and defectors flocked to opposition-held areas in northern Syria in recent months.

Iraq, whose military also declared victory over ISIS this month after driving militants from their major strongholds, is already confronting a possible return of the extremist organization, in a further indication that claims of victory are premature.

According to the Iraq Oil Report, a new armed group, hoisting a white flag that bears a lion’s head, has recently appeared in disputed territories in northern Iraq. Citing local leaders and Iraqi intelligence, the report claimed that some members of the new group are known to have been members of ISIS. This has given rise to fears that ISIS may be “regrouping and rebranding for guerrilla warfare,” the report said.

A regrouping of ISIS would not come as a surprise, especially since militants can still capitalize on grievances in marginalized Sunni communities across Iraq and Syria.

“Across both states, Sunnis had been persecuted and marginalized, politically and economically, along with the physical threat to their very survival,” Mabon said.

“Whilst many are fearful and angry of ISIS, the deeper issues of marginalization and persecution remain.”


 Published In Syria Deeply, 15 Dec. 2017

Category Articles
Thursday, 14 December 2017 17:17

Russia’s Brittle Strategic Pillars in Syria

With unreliable allies and a lack of experience with local power dynamics, Russia’s influence in Syria is built on fragile foundations

With political control fragmented among local powerbrokers in Syria, Russia’s overreliance on the Assad regime to protect its interests is a strategic threat. Despite current intersecting interests, neither the regime nor its Iranian allies are reliable partners. Competing and conflicting interests may finally come to a head once a political solution begins to take shape and Syria embarks on reconstruction, particularly in light of new regional arrangements.

Belying Vladimir Putin’s claim during his surprise visit to Syria that Russia is pulling back, these factors have in fact driven Russia to work to develop new tools that will enable it to maximize its gains and safeguard its interests in Syria.

Russian strengths and weaknesses

Russia reportedly has seven military bases housing approximately 6,000 individuals in Syria, and an estimated 1,000 Russian military police spread throughout the de-escalation zones and areas recently reclaimed from the opposition as a result of reconciliation agreements. Russia has also entrusted several private security forces with the task of carrying out special missions ostensibly in its war against ISIS and with protecting Russian energy installations and investment projects; these include the paramilitary group, ChVK Vagner, which, according to sources, has around 2,500 individuals on the ground in Syria.

But Russia realizes that it is not strong enough to guarantee its interests in Syria on its own and that it must rely on local partners to do so. Hence, Moscow is making efforts on two separate fronts. One is vertical – aiming to establish lasting influence within state institutions, particularly the military and security apparatus – by investing in influential decision makers, such as General Ali Mamlouk, director of the Baath Party’s National Security Bureau, and General Deeb Zeitoun, head of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, two of the most prominent security men.

The other is horizontal in nature. Russia is keen to develop relationships with local powerbrokers directly in order to build inroads with local communities with a view to balancing Iran’s growing influence within Syrian society. These relationships could be used as leverage to sway political negotiations towards Russian interests, while also recruiting them as local partners and guarantors for Russian investments.

Reaching out

The Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria at Hmeimim Airbase plays a key role in communications with local powerbrokers; however, the communication mechanism and those responsible for it vary according to who controls the relevant areas. In coordination with the National Security Bureau, Russia has been able to engage with local powerbrokers in regime-controlled areas, including various political parties, local dignitaries and religious and tribal leaders, through Reconciliation Centre staff. It has also been able to communicate with the Kurds via military and security channels like Hmeimim Airbase and the Russian Ministry of Defence or via political channels managed by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in coordination with Hmeimim.

But Russia faces a dilemma communicating with local powerbrokers in opposition controlled areas and dealing with the influence of multiple regional actors. To overcome those challenges, it has employed several mechanisms to communicate with these groups in an attempt to co-opt them, using important political figures such as Ahmad Jarba to communicate with local leadership in besieged areas like Homs and Eastern Ghouta, and resorting to local reconciliation committees (primarily made up of local dignitaries and technocrats associated with the regime) that possess their own communication channels that can be used to communicate with the local opposition, as was the case in Al-Tel shortly before the Free Syrian Army’s withdrawal.

According to an activist from northern Homs, Russia is also very much dependent on cadres of Chechen Muslim military police, fluent in Arabic, to communicate with local leaderships. In addition, Moscow has used Track II diplomacy to network with local powerbrokers and open up back channels through relationships with regional powers.

Russia has so far employed the ‘carrot and stick’ model when communicating with local powerbrokers to ensure its influence, offering up benefits like security protection and financing, while guaranteeing them a place at the negotiating table and a share of reconstruction revenue. But based on past form, more heavy-handed measures to pressure local powerbrokers, such as making them targets of future military operations or playing on local rivals to marginalize or giving preference to one group over another in a political solution and reconstruction arrangements, remain on the table.

Enduring challenges

Although it has made strides stabilizing its military presence and legitimizing its security arm in Syria, Russia still faces challenges generating leverage within state institutions and Syrian society where Iran opposes Russia's efforts. The regime’s many centres of power, reliance on militias and weak institutions limit Russia’s efforts to consolidate its influence in the rest of Syria. Similarly, Moscow is finding it difficult to communicate with Syria’s many powerbrokers and differentiate between their demands, references and allegiances to other regional powers – making Russia’s strategic pillars in Syria all the more fragile.

Published in Chatham house, 13 Dec.2017,

Category Articles
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