By Anna Ahronheim
May 9, 2020
Earlier this week senior defense officials in Israel announced that after years of Israel’s war-between-war campaign to drive Iran out of Syria, the Islamic Republic was finally withdrawing from the war-torn country.
The news came just hours after an airstrike blamed on Israel targeted a research facility in Aleppo in Syria’s north.
But the announcement also came as Iran is still regrouping from the targeted killing of Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani in January and as it continues to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a disastrous economic crisis hitting the country,
Israel’s war-between-war campaign, known in Hebrew as MABAM, has been going for close to 10 years but has increased its pace over the past three years with thousands of strikes targeting Iranian and militia infrastructure in Syria.
Almost on a weekly occurrence foreign publications are reporting airstrikes- from the Golan Heights on Israel’s northern border to deep inside Syrian territory like Al Bukamal on the Iraqi border to Aleppo in the country’s north on Monday night.
The increase of tempo of strikes as well as the distance of the location of the strikes, deep inside Syria, a senior defense official said, are what is pushing Iran to withdraw its forces and close bases across the country.
Independently, Iranian-backed Shiite militias have also begun to withdraw from Syria as the civil war continues to wind down.
Iranian troops are leaving the country, both in caskets and by air, but the reasons behind that withdrawal may be a bit more complicated than just an increase in airstrikes.
At the height of the civil war, Iran, one of the main backers of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, sent thousands of troops and ferried countless weapons into the war-torn country. Not only was it propping up the regime which was at risk of collapse, under the watchful eye of Soleimani, Iran’s aspirations of regional hegemony almost came to pass.
The death of Solemani, viewed by even Israeli defense officials as an incredible frontline commander and mastermind, was a major strike to Iran’s plans.
And while he was replaced by Ismail Ghaani, it’s hard to replace an individual as charismatic and cunning as Soleimani. Not only did he bump elbows in the halls of high ranking political officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he also got down in the dirt with the soldiers on the frontlines.
Ghaani is not the same and knows that he can’t fill his predecessor’s shoes. And while he is an active commander, the men of the Quds force on the ground in Syria understand that he’s no Soleimani.
Inside Iran, the situation is going from bad to worse and the public are fed up with billions of dollars being spent on Hezbollah, Assad, and even the Houthis in Yemen. They want food on their table, they want to work.
With dozens of strikes targeting airbases used by Iran to ferry in fighters and weapons, there are reports that Iran has began to use Russia’s Hmeimin airbase close to the port city of Latakia, but how long will that last? Russia, which along with Iran, has been instrumental in keeping Assad in power has also begun to run out of patience with Tehran.
The senior defense official who told reporters that Iran was withdrawing from Syria also stressed that Israel would “step up pressure on Iran until it leaves Syria.” Israel knows that if it leaves Iran alone, it risks allowing a monster to grow on its northern front.
But even if Iran and the militias leave, they have been laying down local infrastructure so that Iranian blood doesn’t need to be lost. The locals who align with them can fight against Israel and will pay the price.
Hezbollah has also been investing significant amounts of manpower and time into Syria and has been reported to be embedding itself into the Syrian Arab Army in order to guarantee its survival in the country.
So while the Iranians may be leaving, the reason behind their withdrawal may be more complicated than just Israeli airstrikes.
The Jerusalem Post