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Syria Today – Israel and U.S. Strike in Syria as Iran Escalates Regional Tensions Through Proxies

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

On Sunday, shortly after midnight, the United States conducted two air strikes in Syria against Iran and its proxy groups. According to the Pentagon, this is a response to a series of attacks against U.S. forces in Syria and in Iraq. In a statement, the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes targeted a training facility near the city of al-Boukamal and a safe house near the city of Mayadeen. He added that President Joe Biden ordered the strikes.

This comes as reports have underlined Iran’s use of its network of militias in Syria and Iraq as a means to escalate tensions with Israel. The latter announced on Sunday conducting airstrikes on “terror infrastructure in Syria”.

Iran’s Proxies in Syria Move Toward Escalation With Israel

Foreign Policy has published an article discussing the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas and raises concerns that Iran may initiate a multiple-front attack against Israel using its network of militias in the region. While Hezbollah in Lebanon has received significant attention as an Iranian proxy, the article emphasizes the role of Iran’s various militia groups in Syria and Iraq.

After the conflict between Israel and Hamas began on October 7th, the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, made multiple trips to Syria to coordinate with Iranian proxies in the region. Subsequently, there were over 40 missile or drone strikes by these proxies against U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. This indicated Iran’s intent to test U.S. boundaries and escalate tensions. Additionally, reports suggested that IRGC proxies in Syria were mobilizing near the Israeli border.

On October 22, Qaani reportedly visited southern Syria and established a new “joint operation room” for the IRGC and its proxies near the Golan Heights, highlighting the strategic importance of the Syrian front in Iran’s escalating tensions with Israel.

The article suggests that Iran may use these proxies in Syria and Iraq to respond to Israel’s actions in Gaza. Iran sees the Hamas attacks on Israel as the beginning of a long confrontation, aiming to gradually weaken Israel over time. Therefore, even after the Hamas-Israel conflict subsides, Iran may continue to escalate tensions through different fronts, with Syria playing a crucial role.

The article also discusses two heavily armed IRGC-manufactured proxies: the Afghan Fatemiyoun and Pakistani Zainabiyoun militias. These militias were created during the Syrian civil war to carry out a Shiite jihad, emphasizing extreme anti-Semitism and sectarianism.

In summary, the article explores Iran’s use of its network of militias in Syria and Iraq as a means to escalate tensions with Israel, particularly in response to developments in Gaza. It highlights the ideological commitment and capabilities of these militias in carrying out Iran’s objectives in the region.

How Russia’s Redut PMC forced rival Wagner to withdraw from Syria

Al-Monitor published an article which delves into the dissolution of Russia’s Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) within the Syrian context and its subsequent reassignment to different organizations, notably the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya). It highlights the ongoing transformation of Wagner mercenaries, who have dispersed into various units, including the creation of the Kamerton unit within the Chechen special forces, Akhmat, where they are being prepared for potential combat operations in Ukraine.

Moreover, the article underscores the emergence of the Redut PMC as a significant player, not only in Syria but also in other regions, such as Ukraine and various African countries. Redut’s history is traced back to its origins during the Soviet Union’s collapse, where it was formed by soldiers and officers from the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The modern Redut PMC was established during Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, initially comprised of former Wagner mercenaries.

The piece further elaborates on the specific operations and challenges faced by the Redut PMC in Syria, guarding strategic facilities owned by billionaire Gennady Timchenko’s Stroytransgaz company. It highlights the PMC’s shift from cargo security to active involvement in combat activities against groups like ISIS. The article also mentions the use of the Redut PMC as a label for formalizing contracts with various formations and the expansion of its umbrella structure to include numerous armed volunteer groups scattered across Russia.

The article concludes by discussing the departure of most Wagner mercenaries from Syria, with a small remaining contingent handling the transfer of equipment and documentation. It notes the transfer of previously controlled assets, such as the Hayan gas field and the Hayan Petroleum Company plant, to a PMC affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Defense. The control over these assets has been transferred to the Redut PMC, although the exact division within the Redut PMC that received control is not specified. This development raises questions about the future trajectory of the Redut PMC and its role in various geopolitical contexts.

Syrian Regime Diverts Flights to Lattakia Airport after Latest Israeli Strikes

Flights to and from the Syrian government-ruled areas have been diverted to Latakia International Airport since the latest Israeli airstrikes that hit airports in Damascus and Aleppo.   

Reliable sources in Damascus told Asharq al-Awsat that the government has most likely completed repairing the two airports but doesn’t want to resume operations so that Israel won’t strike them again.

In the past and after previous strikes at airports, authorities were quick to announce that operations were resuming there in just a matter of days. Now, weeks have passed since the attacks and the authorities have yet to announce the resumption of services there.

A local source in Damascus told Asharq Al-Awsat that people are travelling through Lattakia International Airport because the two airports in Damascus and Aleppo are out of service.  

Another source confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that he returned from a foreign country two days ago through the airport in Latakia.   

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Oct. 10 that Israel continues to attack targets in Syria under the pretext of countering Iranian expansion and Iranian-backed militias in the country.  

Between October 10 and November 10, the SOHR documented 17 attacks: 11 airstrikes and six rocket attacks by ground forces.  

Four airstrikes hit Aleppo International Airport, putting it out of service on four occasions. Two airstrikes hit Damascus International Airport, putting it out of service on two occasions.   

After the Israeli attack, Syria’s Ministry of Transport announced that it was diverting scheduled flights to Latakia airport.  

Sources said that the Syrian government believes that operating Lattakia airport was a safer bet given the deployment of Russian forces at the nearby Hmeimim airport. It is unlikely for Israel to target regions in Syria that are held by Russia, they added.

SOHR confirmed that no military shipments have been delivered to Iranian-backed militias through the Damascus and Aleppo airports after the latest Israeli strikes.

The Damascus Voice website said that a plane from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards-linked Mahan Air flew in from Tehran and landed at the Latakia airport on November 2. The plane had no passengers and was unloaded under Russian-Iranian military protection, the website quoted “private” sources as saying.  

Russia has granted Iran the “green light” to use the Latakia airport, part of which is controlled by Russian forces, according to the sources.   

The website added that an Ilyushin Iranian cargo plane landed at the Hmeimim base two days ago. IRGC generals were present for the unloading of the plane. The cargo was transferred to an unknown location held by Russian forces.   

The same aircraft had been used over the years to deliver weapons and ammunition to pro-Iranian militias in Syria.

Israeli airstrikes hit Syria’s Daraa

North Press reported that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced on Sunday conducting airstrikes on “terror infrastructure in Syria”.

The Times of Israel reported, citing the IDF as saying, “This is in reaction to rocket fire several hours ago from Syria toward the Golan Heights.”

Local sources from Daraa Governorate, south Syria, told North Press that airstrikes targeted Brigade 112, affiliated with the Syrian government forces,  in the western countryside of Daraa at 3 am.

The Israeli artillery also targeted posts in Daraa countryside on Saturday, according to the IDF.

Since the eruption of Hamas-Israel conflict, Israeli artillery and airstrikes have targeted posts in Syria many times. The IDF claims responding to hits by the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iranian-backed militia in Syria. Israel has accused the Syrian government of attempting to open a new front against it.

US launches ‘self-defence’ strike on weapons unit in Syria

The US used two F-15 aircrafts to launch a ‘self-defense strike’ in Maysulun in eastern Syria on 8 November. The strike was targeted at what the Pentagon calls a weapons storage unit used by Iran’s revolutionary guard and its affiliates.

Officials say this was in response to attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement, a senior defense official said, ‘Our military actions do not signal a change in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and we have no intentions of escalating conflict in the region.’

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