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Syria Today – Syria New Battlefield for Iran-Israel Rivalry; Teheran Cuts Presence; Educational Sector Faces Difficulties

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Syria New Battlefield for Iran-Israel Rivalry; Teheran Cuts Presence; Educational Sector Faces Difficulties

Cathrin Schaer of DW wrote an op-ed in which she asked whether Syria can be the coming area of conflict between Iran and Israel.  For the past decade, Scaher writes, Israel has targeted Iranian assets and proxies in Syria through airstrikes, effectively impeding Iran’s military expansion without significant costs. This strategy extended to Lebanon and more recently to Iraq, disrupting the established rules of engagement with Iranian-tied adversaries. After a significant escalation on April 1, with Israel’s killing of a top IRGC general, Iran revised its engagement rules, openly attacking Israel from its territory, a marked shift from its prior proxy-based tactics.

This change led to an Iranian declaration of direct retaliation for any Israeli strikes on its interests, signalling a readiness to escalate conflict directly rather than through proxies. Israel responded by striking a military facility in Isfahan, signalling its capability to breach Iranian air defences without escalating further.

Recent developments have seen increased aggression from Hezbollah, including attacks on Israeli soldiers and drones, possibly intensified by Iran’s new stance. Meanwhile, Israel’s strikes in Lebanon and against Iranian proxies in Iraq suggest a continued aggressive posture, despite the risks of broader regional conflict. Both Israel and Iran have made moves suggesting a preference to avoid all-out war, but the situation remains volatile, with the potential for escalation ever-present, especially in Syria.

Washington Asks Baghdad To Safeguard US Troops In Iraq And Syria

The US military called on Iraq’s government on Tuesday to take steps to safeguard American troops in both Iraq and Syria after failed attacks a day earlier by Iran’s proxy militias, Iranian opposition website Iran International reported.

The drone and rocket fire were the first such incidents since a near three-month pause in what had been almost daily attacks that culminated in the January killing of three US soldiers at the Tower 22 outpost in Jordan.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced criminal charges and sanctions against four Iranians over an alleged multi-year cyber campaign targeting more than one dozen American companies, the Treasury Department and the State Department said.

Sanctions were also announced against two companies, Mehrsam Andisheh Saz Nik and Dadeh Afzar Arman, that according to the Treasury Department employed the individual defendants and were front companies for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard cyber command.

“The IRGC-CEC is one of the Iranian government organizations that has been responsible for, through a series of front companies, malicious cyber activity against the US and several other countries…The United States will not tolerate malicious cyber activities victimizing US companies,” the State Department said in a statement. 

Iran cuts Syria presence after strikes blamed on Israel – Hezbollah official

AFP reported that Iran had reduced its military footprint in Syria after a succession of strikes blamed on Israel, a source close to Iran-backed Hezbollah says.

Iran has provided military support to Syrian government forces through more than a decade of civil war, but a series of strikes targeting its commanders in recent months has prompted a reshaping of its presence, the sources tell AFP.

“Iran withdrew its forces from southern Syria,” including both Quneitra and Daraa provinces, which abut the Israeli-held Golan Heights, the source close to Hezbollah says.

But it still maintains a presence in other parts of the country, the source adds.

Be skeptical of reports of Iran ‘withdrawing’ from Syria

However, according to JPost.com columnist Seth Frantizman, this report should be read with skepticism, because Iran and its proxies, as well as allies of the Syrian regime such as Russia, have spread these rumours in the past.

Frantizman quotes the UK-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “as saying that Iranian forces had withdrawn from Damascus and southern Syria,” the report notes. Yet the report then claims that other pro-Iran militias took the place of the Iranians.

This reminds me, the author says, of a cup game, where people at a carnival fairground or in a seedy part of town put money in a cup and asks you to guess which cup it is in as they move the cups around. The report says that “as many as 3,000 Iranian military personnel are present in Syria, supported by tens of thousands of Iranian-trained fighters from countries including Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The fact is that these kinds of reports have been floated in the past with claims that Iran had reduced the number of its personnel from 1,200 to 800. These reports date back to 2018, when ISIS was largely defeated in Syria, and the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, had defeated most of the Syrian rebels. In those days, Iran, Russia, and Turkey were working closely together to formulate a post-civil war policy in Syria.

Today, the columnist adds, the stories about Iran withdrawing personnel from some areas are designed to make it seem like Israel’s opposition to Iranian entrenchment in Syria is working. Iran blamed Israel for an attack on a building next to the Iranian consulate in Damascus in early April. Iran then attacked Israel on April 13-14 and Israel responded several days later.

Hamas denies request to relocate from Qatar to Syria

Palestinian group Hamas on Wednesday denied reports about asking Syria or any other country to host its political office, Anadolu News Agency reported

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Liwaa, citing an unnamed source, said, Hamas has asked to relocate its political office from Qatar to Syria.

According to the newspaper, the Hamas request was rejected by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

“Hamas denies the news report published by Al-Liwaa newspaper about our request to relocate to Syria,” group spokesperson Jihad Taha said in a statement.

“The movement did not request this from Syria or any other country,” he stressed.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said on Tuesday that the Hamas office in Doha was opened in 2012 in coordination with the US for the purpose of mediation between the two sides.

“As long as Qatar’s mediation efforts continue, there is no justification to end the presence of the Hamas political bureau in Doha,” the spokesman said.

“As of now, nothing has changed in that regard,” he added.

The Impact of the Syrian Civil War on its Education Sector

Pepperdine Digital Commons published a lengthy study on the dynamics of Syrian education in Syria after a decade of the civil war. The Syrian Civil War, starting in 2011, has significantly disrupted Syria’s education sector. Talar Haidostian, the paper author, examines the deteriorating condition of education in Syria due to the conflict’s economic impacts, infrastructure damage, and brain drain. The study emphasizes the need for increased international cooperation and online learning to prevent the collapse of the education system.

Key Points:

  1. Impact on Education: 
  • The war has led to massive displacement and migration, severely affecting educational access and infrastructure.
  • A significant number of children and youth are out of school, with schools damaged or destroyed.
  • Brain drain has exacerbated the situation, with many educators and professionals fleeing the country.
  1. Economic Consequences:
  • Syria’s economy has been heavily impacted by the war, contributing to a decline in public funding for education.
  • The economic crisis is worsened by external factors such as regional conflicts and international sanctions.
  1. Policy Recommendations:
  • Strengthen partnerships with international organizations to increase funding and resources for education.
  • Implement online learning modalities to accommodate disrupted traditional education systems.
  • Focus on rebuilding and resourcing schools to restore educational infrastructure.

Haidostian advocates for a strategic approach to revitalize Syria’s education sector through international collaboration, increased funding, and innovative teaching methods. The study calls for urgent action to mitigate the war’s long-term impacts on education, emphasizing education as a fundamental human right essential for the country’s recovery and future stability.

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