Why Israel is waging a shadow war with Iran’s IRGC in Syria

Israel’s airstrikes across Syria come amid suspicions that Iran is using the country to move precision-guided missiles. (AFP/File Photos)
Israel’s airstrikes across Syria come amid suspicions that Iran is using the country to move precision-guided missiles. (AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Why Israel is waging a shadow war with Iran’s IRGC in Syria

Israel’s airstrikes across Syria come amid suspicions that Iran is using the country to move precision-guided missiles. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Israel has launched airstrikes across Syria amid suspicions that Iran is using the country to move precision-guided missiles
  • Experts believe Israel is trying to minimize Hezbollah’s capacity to retaliate in case it has to attack Iran’s nuclear sites

WASHINGTON D.C.: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria have been growing in scale and frequency in recent months as Tehran seeks to cement its hold over Syrian seaports, airports and overland smuggling routes.

From the Israeli standpoint, Iran’s ability to deliver precision-guided missile technology to Syrian territory via these routes poses a serious strategic threat, allowing Iran and its Hezbollah proxies to attack from short range at short notice in the event of a regional war.

Israel does not always claim responsibility for its strikes on sensitive Syrian facilities controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, giving it a measure of plausible deniability to avoid open conflict or Syrian retaliation.

The country is nevertheless thought to be behind scores of recent strikes across Syrian regime territories, from the capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia in the northwest to Deir el-Zour in the east.

Latakia was struck twice in December amid suspicions the IRGC was using the port to move precision-guided weapons. The resulting fireball following one such strike revealed just how much dangerous material Iran was attempting to transfer to its regional terror network.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, issued a stark warning to Iran following the Latakia strikes, vowing that “game-changing” weapons were a red line and Israel would not allow their proliferation.

However, the strikes do not appear to have deterred Iran.

“Preventing Iranian entrenchment in Syria is probably impossible. The question is the rate and quantity of Iranian entrenchment and the quality of this entrenchment,” Tal Beeri, head of the research department at the Alma Research and Education Center in Israel, told Arab News.

“Israel does this without plunging the region into war by attacking only armaments and almost completely refraining from attacking commanders. The attacks are carried out in a targeted manner based on accurate intelligence and only against targets that clearly will not have collateral damage or, alternatively, only minor collateral damage.”

According to Beeri, Israel primarily targets deliveries of components destined for air-defense systems, cruise missiles, long-range missiles, drones and electronic combat systems.




A picture taken on September 9, 2016 from the Isaeli-annexed Golan Heights shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata Al-Khashab after fire reportedly struck the Israeli-held zone. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is estimated that about 70 percent of the time, the air, sea and land arms-smuggling routes are closed due to Israeli activity,” he said.

“However, although arms smuggling has decreased compared with 2020, we do not know what has managed to evade Israeli intelligence and reached Syria and Lebanon.”

Constant pressure on the IRGC and its smuggling routes is seen by Israeli officials as the best means of preventing, or at least slowing, an Iranian military build-up on its doorstep.

“In light of this, we have been witnessing an increasing volume of airstrikes on Syrian soil that has been taking place for a long time now. This is the only way the ‘mowing the grass’ strategy can succeed,” said Beeri.

“It is not just in Israel’s interest. It is in the interest of all relevant players in the Middle East that are threatened by Iran and the international community’s interests, especially the US, Russia and Europe.”




Syrians hold pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration in front of the UN office in Damascus, 30 July 2006, condemning an Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese village of Qana. (AFP/File Photo)

Beeri warned that ballistic missiles on Syrian and Lebanese soil could be easily directed toward Europe.

“Nowadays, the Saudis understand this well in light of the fighting in Yemen and the physical threat posed to them from a direct geographic front under Iranian auspices,” he said.

Indeed, in his most recent speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke at length of his group’s intentions to target Saudi Arabia and broader Arab interests not aligned with Iran’s regional hegemonic aims.

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, said that Israeli strikes on targets in Syria are already having an impact.

“Israel has achieved impressive results in its campaign in Syria to prevent advanced weaponry from reaching Iran’s proxies and partners,” Brodsky told Arab News.

“According to recent Israeli estimates, Iran has been unable to make such transfers through the region — via, air, land and sea — around 70 percent of the time. Israel aims to increase the cost for Bashar Assad in allowing such illicit Iranian activity to take place on Syrian soil.”




Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) riding a tank as part of five-days military exercises in three provinces. (AFP)

However, Brodsky suspects it is only a matter of time before Iran finds alternative routes and methods to move its weaponry.

“As it relates to Iran’s calculus, I don’t see Tehran letting up on its designs to use Lebanon and Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel in the future. But such Israeli strikes will cause the Iranians to improvise their smuggling routes,” he said.

“According to public reports citing Syrian sources, Iran has ramped up arms transfers by sea in an attempt to avoid Israeli strikes in eastern Syria. That explains the uptick in Israeli strikes targeting Latakia port, with two alone in December.”

Israel’s fast-paced approach to containing Iranian activity coincides with international negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal.

Donald Trump, the former US president, withdrew from the accord in 2018, arguing that the agreement reached by the administration of Barack Obama did not go far enough in reducing Iran’s ballistic missile program or its policy of arming and funding militia proxies throughout the Middle East.




Israeli soliders patrol near an Iron Dome defence system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on January 20, 2015, two days after an Israeli air strike killed six Hezbollah members in the Syrian-controlled side of the area. (AFP/File Photo)

Israeli defense officials worry that history might repeat itself if US President Joe Biden’s team signs a new nuclear deal that fails to address the issues cited by Trump. These widening strategic differences between the US and Israel could lead to more unilateral Israeli action.

Brodsky believes Israeli strikes against IRGC targets in Syria may also be intended to show Iran that Israel means business, no matter what the US decides in Vienna.

“While the timing of these strikes is driven by the operational needs of the moment, they have a secondary upside for Israel as it seeks to demonstrate to Tehran that it is prepared to hold it accountable militarily, all while the nuclear talks are happening in Vienna,” he said.

Farhad Rezaei, a senior research fellow at the Philos Project, also believes Israel is sending an unambiguous message to Tehran, showing that it is prepared for any scenario, especially if it concludes that Iran’s nuclear program can be halted only by military means.




A damaged hotel near Syria’s Latakia port after an Israeli air strike targeted the port early on December 28, 2021. (AFP)

“My understanding is that Israel is trying to minimize a Hezbollah missile attack in case it has to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, so Israel is bombing the convoys that bring precision-guided missiles to Lebanon via Syria, as well as the workshops in Syria and storage facilities where precision-guided missiles and rockets are built and stored,” Rezaei told Arab News.

“Israeli papers are talking about a multi-domain operation to prepare for a strike, such as training pilots, obtaining aerial-refueling craft, and trying to limit the potential damage from a Hezbollah barrage once the operation is launched.”

For the time being, according to most experts, neither Israel nor Iran appears interested in starting an open conflict. But with ever more advanced Iranian missile technology finding its way into Hezbollah hands and an isolated Syrian regime growing increasingly reliant on Iran, the stakes are getting higher.

If a fresh nuclear deal is signed in Vienna without additional restrictions on IRGC activity and Iranian missile proliferation, then the chances of a military escalation will rise dramatically.


Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion
The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores. (AP)
Updated 41 min ago

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion
  • Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in Abu Dhabi
  • The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores

ABU DHABI: Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, police said.
Initial reports “showed that 64 people sustained minor injuries, 56 others were moderately wounded, and two people died,” police tweeted.
The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores before being brought under control, they added.
Four of the damaged buildings were “safely” evacuated, with efforts underway to find their residents temporary housing “until the buildings are completely secured,” the police said.
Pictures released by Abu Dhabi police showed first responders tending to a person on a gurney, and debris and broken glass strewn across the pavement.
A witness told The National newspaper that he heard two explosions around lunchtime.
“The first sound was small and people started calling the fire and police,” said the man, who was not identified.
“Then soon, there was a big blast. It was a really big sound. The windows shook and in some offices, the windows shattered.”
The authorities gave no indication of foul play.
However, the UAE has been on heightened alert since a Houthi drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.


Two Iranian pilots killed after F7 jet crashes - IRNA

Two Iranian pilots killed after F7 jet crashes - IRNA
Updated 43 min 41 sec ago

Two Iranian pilots killed after F7 jet crashes - IRNA

Two Iranian pilots killed after F7 jet crashes - IRNA

Two Iranian pilots died after their F7 fighter jet crashed near Anarak, 200 km (124 miles) east of the city of Isfahan, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.


Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city

Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city
Updated 58 min 37 sec ago

Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city

Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city
  • The 10-story residential and commercial building partly collapsed on Monday

DUBAI: The death toll from a building collapse in the southern Iranian city of Abadan has reached 10, with some people still missing, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
The 10-story residential and commercial building partly collapsed on Monday, leaving at least 80 people under the rubble, according to state TV.
“After hours of emergency efforts, 30 people trapped under the rubble were extracted alive and taken to hospital to treat their injuries,” a deputy governor of the Khuzestan province told IRNA.
The number of people still trapped under the rubble remains unclear.


Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Militia attacks continue on government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada and Hajjah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s army has said that the Iran-backed Houthis have violated a UN-brokered truce more than 4,276 times since day one by mobilizing fighters and launching drone and missile attacks on government troops, even as the militia indicated its acceptance of its renewal.

The truce, which is the longest since the war began, came into effect on April 2 and has led to reduced violence and deaths across the country, the UN said.

But the Yemeni army said the Houthis continued to gather heavy artillery, military vehicles, and fighters outside the strategic city of Marib, had attacked government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada, and Hajjah, and created new military outposts.

Members of Yemen’s government forces search for explosive devices in a house in the village of Hays in the western province of Hodeida on Monday. (AFP)

“The Houthis are challenging the truce and international resolutions. They have not adhered to the truce,” Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, an army spokesperson, told Arab News on Monday.  

FASTFACT

The UN’s Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg is pushing the government and militia to extend the truce and put into place its unfulfilled components, including opening roads in Taiz and other provinces.

The Houthi violations come as the UN’s Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg pushes the government and militia to extend the truce and put into place its unfulfilled components, including opening roads in Taiz and other provinces.

On Sunday, the head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi Al-Mashat, said the movement would accept an extension of the truce with its opponents, boosting hopes of stopping hostilities across the country for another two or three months.

“We affirm that we are not against extending the truce, but what is not possible is the acceptance of any truce in which the suffering of our people continues,” the Houthi leader said.

In Aden, the head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, also expressed his support on Saturday for current efforts by international mediators to extend the truce.

At the same time, activists and rights groups intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to highlight the grave consequences of the Houthi siege on thousands of Taiz residents.

The Abductees Mothers’ Association, an umbrella group for relatives of those abducted in Yemen, said Sunday that checkpoints manned by the Houthis outside Taiz had seized 417 people seeking to enter or leave the city since the beginning of the war.

The Houthis have laid a siege on Yemen’s third-largest city since early 2015 after failing to seize control of it due to strong resistance from troops and local fighters.

The Houthis barred people from driving through the main roads, deployed snipers, and planted landmines, forcing people into using dangerous and unpaved roads.  

“Civilians in #Taiz are forced to use alternative long, narrow, winding, and unsafe routes, which caused a lot of accidents that killed and injured hundreds of victims,” tweeted the American Center for Justice, a rights group established by Yemeni activists. It added that Houthi snipers indiscriminately gunned down civilians while they carried out their everyday activities.

“Most of the children sniped by Houthi snipers were targeted while fetching water, grazing the sheep, playing near their homes, or returning from schools,” the organization said.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘was forced to sign false confession at airport’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘was forced to sign false confession at airport’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
  • It’s a tool. So I am sure they will show that some day

LONDON: A British-Iranian charity worker who was detained in Tehran for almost six years says she was forced by Iranian officials to sign a false confession to spying before she was freed two months ago.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said British government officials were present at Tehran airport when “under duress” she signed the false admission to spying.
She said she was told by Iranian officials that “you won’t be able to get on the plane” unless she signed.
“The whole thing of me signing the forced confession was filmed,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Monday.
“It’s a tool. So I’m sure they will show that some day.”
Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Tulip Siddiq, who represents Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s home district in London, said the revelation raised “serious questions” for the British government.
She said Foreign Secretary Liz Truss “must set out in Parliament what she knew about this shocking revelation and what consequences it could have for my constituent.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family in Iran. She was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, but she was on vacation at the time of her arrest.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after she was convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups denied.
She had been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran for the last two years.
She and another dual citizen, Anoosheh Ashoori, were released and flown back to the UK in March.
Their release came after Britain paid a £400 million ($503 million) debt to Iran stemming from a dispute over tanks that were ordered in the 1970s but were never delivered.