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Features

Syrian Regime Army Reinforcements and Pro-Iranian Militias Near Jordan and Israeli Borders

June 7, 2020
Taym Al-Ahmad
9 min read
IranWire has learned that, according to sources within the military, the Syrian regime is preparing to launch a large-scale military operation in Daraa Governorate, southern Syria.
IranWire has learned that, according to sources within the military, the Syrian regime is preparing to launch a large-scale military operation in Daraa Governorate, southern Syria.

IranWire has learned that, according to sources within the military, the Syrian regime is preparing to launch a large-scale military operation in Daraa Governorate, southern Syria, with the support of pro-Iranian militias, and despite Russian assurances to the contrary.

Abu Jaber, a military commander in the Syrian opposition in the countryside west of Daraa, told IranWire: "Militias loyal to Iran arrived in southern Syria on the morning of May 17 in preparation for the Syrian regime forces storming the towns of Daraa's western countryside, including Tafas, Al-Muzayrib, Tal Shihab, Al-Yadudah, Al-Ajmi and Zaizoun.

The source pointed out that the militias were deployed in the areas of Dahiyat Basil al-Assad, west of the city of Daraa, Hay Al-Sahafah, Hay Al-Sabeel, the municipal stadium, and the panorama area, adding that the militias took over the buildings of clinics, suburban schools, and some civilian homes, forcing them to leave.

According to Abu Jaber, it was “Iranian elements” in the Syrian regime's army that insisted on storming the region, represented by the Fourth Division led by Major General Ali Mahmoud, the Al-Ghaith forces led by Brigadier Ghiath Dalah, the Fifteen Division, the Fifth Division, the Ninth Division, and Air Force Intelligence, in addition to pro-Iranian militias such as Syrian Hezbollah, headed by Haj Hashim Al-Qiyadi, who is also a leader in Lebanese Hezbollah, the Fatimiyoun Brigade, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, the Radwan Brigades, and local groups from Daraa Governorate, such as the 313 Brigade headed by Wasim Masalmeh, the former leader of the People's Committees.

Abu Jaber added that according to his military sources, the campaign included an estimated 500 fighters from the Fourth Division (Al-Ghaith Forces) with combat missions, and around 700 other fighters from other military formations, who are equipped with heavy and medium weapons, rocket launchers, Golan missiles, and homemade elephant missiles.

Reasons for Military Campaign on West Daraa Countryside

The military mobilization of the Syrian regime and its militias in Daraa Governorate seems to have happened for several reasons.

Firstly: To control the border with Jordan and the border with Israel, by controlling the towns of Daraa's western countryside up to the triangle of the Yarmouk Basin, in the far southwest of Syria, which is still under the control of the Central Committee in Houran.

Secondly: To secure the drug smuggling route from Lebanon to the south of Syria, reaching Jordan and the Persian Gulf.

Thirdly: In order to arrest Qasim Al-Subaihi, also known as Abu Tariq, and his thirteenth group, as a result of the kidnapping and killing of nine policemen in Hay Al-Muzayrib in Daraa's western countryside, in response to the killing of his son, Shuja Al-Subaihi, and his daughter's husband, Muhammad Al-Subaihi.

The Region’s Importance to the Iranian Element in Syria

Abu Mahmoud Al-Hourani, Director of the Free Houran Assembly, told IranWire: "Daraa's western countryside had not been entered by pro-Iranian forces as it was subject to a direct settlement agreement with the Russians during the summer of 2018. This caused the Iranians and their followers to set their sights on this region in particular."

Al-Hourani pointed out that the area is strategically important as a border region, and that taking control of it would give several advantages to the Iranians; namely reaching the Jordanian border, facilitating the transportation of drugs to Jordan and then on to the Arabian Gulf states, and approaching the strip of border shared with Israel in the Golan Heights.

For his part, Nour Al-Rifai, a journalist interested in southern Syrian, told IranWire that there are several military positions that were lost by the Syrian regime after the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, and that having re-taken control of the south with Russian and Iranian support in 2018, it has begun to reinforce its military sites.

Al-Rifai also noted the penetration by Iranian elements of such sites – while wearing the uniform of Syrian soldiers and using Syrian vehicles. The purpose of this is to control the border with the occupied Golan Heights and to hide from Israeli aircraft that have targeted several Iranian sites in Syria as well as those of its milita. The most recent such Israeli attack targeted a site south of the village of Hadr, north of Al-Quneitra, where an Iranian-made rocket launcher was destroyed.

Role of the Central Committees and the Progress of Negotiations

IranWire has obtained information from a source close to the Central Committees in Houran that negotiations have taken place between the Central Committees, the Russians, and representatives of the Syrian regime forces.

The source added that on 15 May, the Central Committees in Houran met with General Alexander, the commander of Russian forces in southern Syria, at the Southern Command Center in the city of Izra, Daraa Governorate, having obtained assurances that regime forces would not storm the area.

The Russian general also told the Central Committees that the purpose of these forces and the military reinforcements to Daraa were to redeploy and reinforce military positions and checkpoints, as well as to protect the border, stressing that the Russian side would not allow the Syrian regime to storm the region or violate the settlement agreement.

The source said: "The Central Committees' meetings did not just include the Russians, but also Syrian regime officers from the Joint Operations Center in a Daraa suburb, including Major General Ali Mahmoud of the Fourth Division, the commander of the military campaign; Brigadier Ghiath Dallah, commander of the Ghaith forces in the Fourth Division; Colonel Muhammad Al-Isa from the Fourth Division's security office; Colonel Abd al-Qader Hamoura from the Fourth Division; Major General Hussam Luqa, head of the security committee in Daraa; and Brigadier General Luay Al-Ali, head of the Military Security Branch in southern Syria. The reasons for the large-scale mobilization that arrived in Daraa were discussed, with the pretext being that the build-up was to fight ISIS in the region, something that members of the Central Committee rejected, focusing instead on resolving differences through peaceful means and sparing the region the scourge of war."

Military Escalation in Region

IranWire has learned from an opposition military source in the town of Al-Yadudah, who preferred not to be named due to the security situation, that on the morning of May 16, military groups from the regime's forces moved east of the town of Al-Yadudah, shelling a civilian house that resulted in material damage and killing two sheep, but that armed opposition factions did not respond to the source of the attack in order not to drag the area into an armed conflict that they could not afford to fight, according to the source.

The source stated that the movements of military groups east of the city of Tafas were monitored at Al-Tabilin checkpoint, Al-Siru checkpoint, and Al-Maftarah checkpoint, describing the action as provocative to opposition forces in the area, but without the opposition making any counter move.

The source confirmed that the regime forces and the militias supporting it were humiliating residents by increasing the number of checkpoints while also seizing homes and farms on the outskirts of the towns of Al-Yadudah and Tafas.

Street Reaction in Southern Syria

Jad Al-Abdullah, an activist in the revolutionary movement in Daraa, told IranWire: "When military reinforcements started arriving in Daraa, activists called for massive demonstrations, and nighttime protests did occur in Daraa Al-Balad, Tafas, Al-Harak, Al-Shajarah, Saham, Jaleen, Al-Yadudah, Nahteh, Al-Karak, Umm Walad, Al-Muzayrib, and Tal Shihab."

Al-Abdullah added that these demonstrations were organized to denounce the regime forces' intentions of storming Daraa's western countryside and to bring in pro-Iranian militias.

Street Reaction in Daraa

Abu Alaa, a notable figure in Daraa, told IranWire: "The people of the western countryside are living in terror as a result of the disinformation campaign the regime is spreading, including threats of death and abuse against the people of Daraa. This comes in addition to the theft, looting, and destruction of buildings and property, and the burning of agricultural crops, among other threats." He added that the region is experiencing an economic recession that has coincided with the high exchange rate between the dollar against the Syrian pound.

Abu Alaa stated that many traders had moved their goods outside the western countryside to safer areas such as the cities of Daraa, Dail, Nawa, Tasil and Al-Quneitra. The western countryside has also witnessed a wave of displacement, which could worsen with the campaign date drawing closer, as indicated by the regime forces.

Groups loyal to the Syrian regime have also circulated images of military columns and videos of militias threatening Daraa, and chanting "sectarian" slogans, while vowing to kill all Daraa residents, accusing them of igniting discord in Syria and calling for the launch of a "battle against sedition," as per their description.

Official Syrian media outlets have announced the advance of military forces and a string of withdrawals in order to spread terror and instability in Daraa Governorate, as a from of psychological warfare aimed at eliminating the opposition's popular base.

Importance of Daraa Governorate for the Drug Trade

After the Syrian regime took control of the south of Syria, in the summer of 2018, the eastern part of Daraa came under the control of the Fifth Corps, led by Ahmad Al-Awdah, a former commander in the Free Army (Youth of Sunna Forces), while the Central Committees took control of Daraa Al-Balad, and Daraa's western countryside (Tafas and its surroundings), which were all protected by the Russians. The Russians did not allow regime forces or Iranian militias to enter the region, causing the latter to set its sights on reaching the Jordanian border, especially following the seizure of several drug shipments that were destined for Jordan.

The news site Zaman Al-Wasl has also reported that the Jordanian army seized a shipment of drugs destined for Jordan at the Syrian border, after a clash with a group of smugglers who fled deep into Syrian territory. After searching the area, 2,831 packets of cannabis and 20,000 captagon pills were seized. The seized goods were transferred to the authorities.

IranWire also learned, from a source who preferred not to be named, that several drug smuggling operations from Lebanon had been unsuccessful and that the drug enforcement unit had arrested a number of major drug dealers, including Muhammad Mahawish Abu Salim Al-Khalidi, Hamdan Al-Badi, and others, but that smuggling operations nevertheless continue.

The source said that some drug traffickers have been released from prison after paying huge bribes to officials in the Syrian regime, pointing out that most of the drug smugglers are linked to Lebanese Hezbollah, which provides them with protection and support at security branches, including Mustafa Al-Kasam, Wasim Masalmah, Imad Abu Zureiq, and many others belonging to security branches who act as a facade to protect their suspicious activities.

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