Syrian rebels say Bennett wrong, Iran not withdrawing from Syria

Israeli reporter talks with Syrian rebels who say Defense Minister Naftali Bennett got it wrong and Iranian troops aren’t pulling out. “It will take a lot of force to get them out.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A senior rebel commander in Syria says Israeli reports of an Iranian military withdrawal are wrong and that Iran is staying solidly entrenched there, Channel 11 reported Sunday.

Following Israeli Defense Ministry allegations that attacks on Iranian assets in Syria were having an effect, Kan reporter Roi Kais phoned his contacts in the Syrian resistance to see what was happening in the field.

A senior commander with forces fighting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in eastern Syria said the Iranian withdrawal that Israel talked about last week is a complete illusion.

“Iranians have a regular program in Syria that involves changing the demographic balance. It takes a lot of force to get them out, more than a few assaults,” the commander told Kais.

The commander also said that over the past days Iranian troops and private militias continued to stream into Syria through the Iraqi border, explaining that what is happening is a restructuring of forces and not a retreat.

Despite Israeli claims of hitting Iranian military targets in Syria, the rebel commander said those attacks had “limited” influence and Iran and its affiliates were using dummy targets to mislead Israel.

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A Syrian officer who defected from the Assad regime told Kan News that as long as Israel continued to grant Assad immunity and did not separate him from Iran, Israel would not really be able to get Iran out of Syria.

“We have moved from curbing Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to pushing it out of there and we will not stop,” Bennett said earlier this month.

A few days later senior defense officials went on to say that “Iran has turned from being an asset for Syria to being a burden. For the first time since Iran entered Syria, it’s shrinking its forces and evacuating bases.”

Bennett, who is expected to be replaced Thursday when the new national unity government is due to be sworn in, also said earlier this year in now what appears to have been wishful thinking that we see initial signs of softening and Iranian recalculation of its trajectory in Syria.”