Maher al-Assad has told Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani that President Bashar al-Assad intends to dissolve the pro-regime National Defense Force (NDF) militias, according to sources close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said Maher al-Assad told Soleimani about regime's intention to dissolve the militia in order to integrate it with Syrian Arab Army.
The meeting is reported to have taken place after the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria and the declaration by Syrian army Chief of Staff Ali Abdullah Ayub about the formation of the "Fourth Legion."
This Fourth Legion is tasked with carrying out ground operations with Russian air support.
According to a report provided by our correspondent on Nov. 10, the Assad regime has already begun to dissolve its militias, issuing a decision to disband the NDF in Qalamoun at the beginning of this month.
Created with the assistance of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Hassan Hamdani, who was killed in Aleppo in October, the NDF is set to be replaced by the Russian-backed Fourth Legion, reflecting the widening rifts between Moscow and Tehran over the Syrian file.
While Iran tries to keep its Shiite-backed militias inside Syria, including the NDF, Moscow wants to distance itself from the negative reputation of the Assad regime's forces, regarding widespread acts of killing, looting and kidnapping.
According to information obtained by al-Souria Net, Iran is afraid of losing control over the local militias in Syria, as Tehran has invested money, weapons and training into the forces.
Tehran also fears that the Assad regime may reduce its dependence on Iran, especially with the strengthening of Russian military influence on the Syrian coast, as reflected by Soleimani's increased visits to Syrian army locations since October.
Moscow has been reluctant to support militant groups fighting under religious banners and sectarian doctrines, like many of the Iranian-backed militias in Syria from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iranian political analyst Saheb Sadeghi told al-Monitor that Russia believes that it is easier to control a secular army, pointing out that differences in points of view between Russians and Iranians about the nature of the regime's military forces may evolve into a clear disagreement.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.