Iran denies Israel is pushing it out of Syria

Iran claims there has been no ‘strategic change’ and is only rearranging its forces inside Syria for internal reasons, not because of repeated Israeli airstrikes.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Iran has intensified the redeployment over the past few days of its militias in various regions in Syria, a published report said.

However, officials dismissed the moves as “tactical” redeployments, claiming that the  changes did not signify any Iranian strategic change in Syria, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

A western official said several factors could have affected the Iranian moves including the economic crisis in Iran and coronavirus pandemic that has hit the Islamic Republic hard, as well as tensions with the U.S. in Iraq, where American forces have attacked Shi’ite militias.

Other possible causes for the troop movements are the reemergence of ISIS in the west of Syria, Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, an ease in fighting against rebels in other Syrian regions and pressure from Russia, whose military intervention in the civil war has been a key factor in keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power.

Simultaneously with  the troop redeployment, some foreign militias brought to Syria by Iran handed over their positions to Syrian militias loyal to Tehran, the report said. The official said the situation was similar to military rearrangements that took place after the American-Russian deal that called for the withdrawal of non-Syrian forces to 80 kilometers from the Syrian borders with Jordan and Israel.

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The Syrian news website Deir Ezzour 24 reported Monday on “strange movements” by Iranian militias in the Deir Ezzour governate of eastern Syria bordering Iraq that at one point had been mostly controlled by Syrian rebels. The site reported on recent tensions between Syrian forces and Iranian factions over a decision to lock down the area due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The area is part of a land route from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea that was set up by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad in January.

Last week Israeli defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Iran had started to pull out its forces from Syria as a result of repeated Israeli air attacks. Israel had let Iran know it would not tolerate Tehran setting up bases in Syria or transferring weapons to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon and had carried out numerous attacks to thwart Iranian moves.

Earlier in May, U.S. State Department official James Jeffrey said America supports “in every possible way” Israeli raids on Iranian sites in Syria and called on all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria. He made an exception for Russia because the Russian military has been in Syria for decades, unrelated to the civil war there.

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Jeffrey was of the opinion that the Iranians were indeed tactically pulling out from Syria partially because they do not need so many ground forces there, along with the concern over the economic toll amid the U.S. sanctions against Tehran.