Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
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Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
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Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)
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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)
An Israeli missile explodes as it is intercepted by Syrian air defenses over Damascus on Feb. 14, 2020. (AFP)
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An Israeli missile explodes as it is intercepted by Syrian air defenses over Damascus on Feb. 14, 2020. (AFP)
Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
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Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)
Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
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Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)
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Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)
Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)
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Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)
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Updated 17 May 2021

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
  • Despite losing hundreds of fighters to Israeli bombardment, Iran and its proxies remain committed to their presence in Syria
  • Experts warn sanctions relief for Iran under revived nuclear talks could ignite an already volatile situation in the war-torn country

LONDON: Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran and its allied proxies inside Syria since the country’s descent into civil war over a decade ago, with officials in Tel Aviv making it clear they will refuse to tolerate any Iranian entrenchment along their northern border.

Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Tehran’s Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. On May 5, Israeli strikes in the Syrian provinces of Latakia and Hama claimed the lives of at least eight individuals on the payroll of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Despite the persistent bombardment and loss of personnel, experts say the IRGC is unlikely to strike back directly or relinquish its military presence any time soon. The reason: Syria is simply too precious a strategic prize for Tehran to give up.




A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)

“Both Israel and Iran believe that they have vital national security interests at stake in Syria,” Chris Bolan, professor of Middle East Security Studies at the US Army War College, told Arab News.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which intervened early in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime, is the crux of Israel’s national security headache in Syria, said Bolan.

“Israeli concerns with Iran’s support to Hezbollah are enduring and will continue regardless of the outcome of (nuclear) negotiations in Vienna. These concerns have only been exacerbated with Iran’s growing military presence and intervention on behalf of Syrian President Assad since the onset of the civil war,” he said.

“Israel will continue to take whatever actions are necessary — including airstrikes — to both minimize the threat posed by Hezbollah’s growing, sophisticated arsenal of missiles and ensure that Iran’s military presence in Syria does not pose an immediate threat to Israel.

“Similarly, Iranian leaders view their support to Hezbollah as an essential element of Iran’s national security strategy of forward defense. A well-equipped Hezbollah that poses a significant threat to Israel serves as Tehran’s most potent deterrent against large-scale Israeli or Western strikes.”




Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Alongside Hezbollah, the IRGC has nurtured, trained and armed a host of other militia groups across Syria. By shipping in fighters from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan, Tehran has created its own army of Shiite mercenaries in Syria.

Still, on Syria’s front lines and at the mercy of Israeli warplanes, these foreign fighters have paid a heavy price for their allegiance to Tehran.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), between January 2018, when Israel’s involvement in Syria first escalated, and January 2020, almost 500 Iran-backed fighters were directly killed by Israeli airstrikes.

That figure includes “228 militiamen of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias” and “171 members of the Iranian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” as well as nearly 100 Syrian pro-government militiamen.




Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)

Thousands more have died on the front lines in direct clashes with rebels and Daesh militants.

According to SOHR, the May 5 strikes alone claimed eight lives: Five Iranians and Afghans, a Syrian and two others of “non-Syrian” nationality.

“The death toll is expected to rise further as the attack left many members injured, some seriously, including Lebanese militiamen and officers,” it said. It is not yet clear whether any members of Hezbollah were killed or injured.

IN NUMBER

500+

Fighters killed in Israeli strikes in Syria in Jan. 2018-Jan. 2020.

According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence, Hezbollah is unlikely to risk striking back against Israel in spite of these heavy losses.

“Hezbollah has a clear track record over the past few years of only responding to Israeli strikes in Syria when those strikes kill Hezbollah operatives,” Levitt told Arab News.

“So long as Israeli strikes only hit Hezbollah weapons shipments or infrastructure, the group is unlikely to respond against Israel directly for fear of igniting a cross-border conflict that it currently wants to avoid.

“Hezbollah prefers to avoid fighting wars on two different fronts at once (Syria and Israel), and is also sensitive about dragging Lebanon into a war with Israel that the vast majority of Lebanese don’t want, at a time when Lebanon is experiencing severe economic and political instability.”

Instead, in the face of escalating losses, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has resorted to fiery rhetoric and lofty promises.

Just days after the latest strikes, Iranian state-backed media quoted Nasrallah as saying: “The ‘Israelis’ are concerned today due to the growing capabilities of the Axis of Resistance. The ‘Israeli’ entity is in trouble and its wall is cracking; there is a leadership crisis and this is a sign of collapse and weakness.”

However Hezbollah chooses to dress things up, Israel’s air campaign has not only caused hundreds of casualties but also succeeded in its stated objective of preventing widespread Iranian entrenchment in Syria, particularly in the country’s south.




Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the late military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)

“The Israeli airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups have been quite effective in destroying and disrupting key targets in Syria,” said Johan Obdola, founder of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.

In the course of the Syrian war, Israel has bombed secret weapons depots in major cities, key infrastructure including highways, as well as hundreds of shipments of missiles and other arms earmarked for Iran’s allies.




A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 27, 2020 shows a damaged building in Damascus after reported Israeli air strikes. (AFP)

“These constant airstrikes have been severely hitting Iran’s smuggling operations of advanced weapons, including missiles to Hezbollah in Syria, and also including warehouses and pre-existing underground compounds that serve as pipelines for military components,” Obdola said.

That said, Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels, according to experts. If the talks should falter between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, Bolan warns, the standoff in Syria between Iran and Israel could become even more volatile.

“The outcome of negotiations is not likely to significantly alter the basic calculations of entrenched Israeli or Iranian interests in Syria,” said Bolan.

“Nevertheless, failed negotiations in Vienna will likely add to the already mounting tensions between Israel and Iran inside Syria and thereby increase the prospect of intended or unintended escalation.”

Obdola, for his part, says Iran and its allies are likely to capitalize on the talks and any sanctions relief achieved as an opportunity to strengthen their position against Israel.

“The nuclear talks represent to Iran an opportunity to move forward with its plan against Israel,” he said.

An end to sanctions on Iran “would facilitate Iran and Hezbollah in its expansion not only in Syria, but in other countries around the world where they have been implementing an aggressive military, militia and terrorist network.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Jordan reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases to date as fourth wave rages

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 59 min 53 sec ago

Jordan reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases to date as fourth wave rages

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • An additional 11,478 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total in the country since the pandemic began to 1,152,526
  • Nearly 23 percent of tests returned a positive result, 18 percent above the 5 percent rate considered ‘safe’ by authorities

AMMAN: Jordan on Monday reported the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases in the country since the pandemic began, as the kingdom battles to contain a surging fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

Authorities said an additional 11,478 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total to 1,152,526, and another 15 people have died of conditions related to the disease. The death toll now stands at 13,088.

Nearly 23 percent of PCR tests returned a positive result, 18 percent above the 5 percent rate considered “safe” by the government.

A further 158 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital, while 107 have recovered and been discharged. A total of 714 people are currently receiving hospital treatment for the disease.

The government said occupancy rates of isolation beds by COVID-19 patients in the country’s northern, central and southern regions stand at 10 percent, 19 percent and 8 percent respectively.

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots.


Algerian president in Egypt on official visit

Algerian president in Egypt on official visit
Updated 25 min 39 sec ago

Algerian president in Egypt on official visit

Algerian president in Egypt on official visit
  • Abdelmadjid Tebboune is on a two-day state visit
  • Egypt is the third Arab country that Tebboune has visited since he took office in December 2019

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received on Monday evening his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune at Cairo International Airport.

Tebboune is on a two-day state visit, and is expected to discuss with El-Sisi Arab and African security issues, including the crisis in neighboring Libya.

The two presidents previously met in January 2020 on the sidelines of the Berlin conference on the Libyan crisis.

Egypt is the third Arab country that Tebboune has visited since he took office in December 2019, after Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

El-Sisi received a written message from Tebboune last week after receiving Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra in Cairo.

El-Sisi and Lamamra discussed bilateral relations and Arab issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Libyan crisis.


Egypt not to blame for failure of Renaissance Dam talks: FM

Egypt not to blame for failure of Renaissance Dam talks: FM
Updated 24 January 2022

Egypt not to blame for failure of Renaissance Dam talks: FM

Egypt not to blame for failure of Renaissance Dam talks: FM
  • Sameh Shoukry: Egypt is always ready to resume negotiations with Ethiopia if there is a political will to reach an agreement
  • Egypt and Sudan reject Ethiopia’s insistence on filling the dam before reaching a binding agreement

CAIRO: Cairo is not to blame for the failure of negotiations over the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has said.

“Egypt is always ready to resume negotiations with Ethiopia if there is a political will to reach an agreement,” he added.

“Egypt is always keen to reach consensus between the three countries — Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia — and to reach a binding legal agreement in accordance with the rules of international law and international practices, in a manner that meets the needs of all parties, which is Ethiopia’s right to development, and the right of Egypt and Sudan to their share of the Nile waters.”

Negotiations between the three countries failed in April 2021 and have not resumed since. Egypt and Sudan reject Ethiopia’s insistence on filling the dam before reaching a binding agreement.


Egypt approves Merck COVID-19 pill, says to be produced locally

Egypt approves Merck COVID-19 pill, says to be produced locally
Updated 24 January 2022

Egypt approves Merck COVID-19 pill, says to be produced locally

Egypt approves Merck COVID-19 pill, says to be produced locally

CAIRO: Egypt approved Merck & Co’s COVID-19 pill Molnupiravir for emergency use, the country’s drug authority said on Monday, adding that the pill would be locally produced.
The drug will initially be manufactured by five local companies, to be joined later by several other firms, the Egyptian Drug Authority said in a statement.


Arab League calls for Houthis to be classified terror group

Arab League calls for Houthis to be classified terror group
Updated 24 January 2022

Arab League calls for Houthis to be classified terror group

Arab League calls for Houthis to be classified terror group
  • The league affirmed its support for “the UAE’s right to self-defense and to respond to aggression under international law”
  • The league also welcomed the UN Security Council’s “unified position” in condemning the Houthi attacks

CAIRO: The Arab League has urged the international community to classify Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia as a terrorist organization after last week’s missile and drone attacks on the UAE.

The call followed an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Sunday to discuss the “brutal and vicious terrorist attack on civilians and civilian targets.”

It said the attacks “constitute a violation of international law and international humanitarian law, and a real threat to vital civilian facilities, energy supplies and the stability of the global economy.

“They also constitute a threat to regional peace and security, undermine Arab national security, harm international peace and security, and pose a threat to international commercial shipping lines.”

The meeting welcomed the solidarity of countries, as well as regional and international organizations, with the UAE.

The Arab League also welcomed the UN Security Council’s “unified position” in condemning the Houthi attacks.

The meeting affirmed the league’s support for “the UAE’s right to self-defense and to respond to aggression under international law.”

It stressed “the need for the international community to stand united in the face of this terrorist act that threatens regional and international peace and stability, and to take immediate and decisive measures to deter the Houthi militias, in order to stop their repeated criminal acts in Yemen and the region.”