Syria Today – Iran Partial Retreat from Syria; Gulf Countries Rapprochement with Damascus

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria

The deployment of senior officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria has been reduced due to recent Israeli airstrikes. In response, Iran is shifting focus to rely more on allied Shi’ite militias to maintain influence in the region. Meanwhile, Iran secured victory in a soccer match through a penalty shootout after a 1-1 result at the end of extra time. At the same time, diplomatic ties between Arab Gulf countries and Syria are experiencing a renewed push, marking a shift more than a decade after President Bashar al-Assad faced regional isolation for his government’s harsh suppression of peaceful anti-regime protests.

Iran’s Guards pull officers from Syria after Israeli strikes

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and will rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, five sources familiar with the matter said.

The Guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since arriving a decade ago to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war. Since December, Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of their members, among them one of the Guards’ top intelligence generals.

As hardliners in Tehran demand retaliation, Iran’s decision to pull out senior officers is driven partly by its aversion to being sucked directly into a conflict bubbling across the Middle East, three of the sources told Reuters.

While the sources said Iran has no intention of quitting Syria – a key part of Tehran’s sphere of influence – the rethink underscores how the consequences of the war ignited by Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel are unfolding in the region.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

One of the sources – a senior regional security official briefed by Tehran – said senior Iranian commanders had left Syria along with dozens of mid-ranking officers, describing it as a downsizing of the presence.

The source did not say how many Iranians had left and Reuters was unable independently to determine that.

Heartbreak for Syria as Iran wins nail-biting Asian Cup clash on penalties

Iran emerged the winner after a penalty shootout was needed to separate the teams following a 1-1 result at the end of extra time, according to Al-Jazeera.

It was an end-to-end contest that captivated the spectators for more than two hours and the underdog’s fight that Syria showed.

Iran started the game as favourites on many counts.

Higher ranking: Iran are second in Asia and 21st in the world in FIFA’s men’s rankings, compared with Syria’s 91st position in the world and 13th in Asia.

Past glory: Iran have won the Asian Cup three times – although the last time they triumphed was 48 years ago – while Syria had never previously gone past the group stage.

And finally, reputation: Iran were one of the title contenders alongside the likes of Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Syria were rated as one of the teams that would do wonders by qualifying for the knockouts.

Their progress thrilled Syrian fans as it gave them a chance to see their team in action one more time, especially at a stadium that kept them very close to the action. Both sets of fans loved every minute of the action.

The intensity of the on-field action was closely matched by the singing and chanting off it.

The 10,000-capacity venue was evenly packed with supporters of both teams. They came prepared with drums, trumpets, flags of various sizes and powerful vocal cords. Once the action was under way, each wave of attack on the pitch was matched by a crescendo of noise off it.

Gulf thaw with Syria gains steam: UAE sends envoy, Saudi diplomats plan visit

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Arab Gulf countries and Syria is currently witnessing renewed impetus more than a decade after President Bashar al-Assad’s regional isolation due to his government’s brutal crackdown of peaceful anti-regime protests, Al-Monitor reproted.

A delegation of Saudi diplomats is reportedly heading to Damascus later this week, days after the UAE dispatched its first ambassador to the Syrian capital in more than 10 years. 

The pro-government Syrian Al-Watan newspaper said in a Wednesday report that Saudi charge d’affaires Abdullah al-Haris, along with several other diplomats, will arrive in Damascus on Saturday to resume Saudi consular services.

Citing its own sources, Al-Watan said Haris will submit his credentials to the Syrian Foreign Ministry. He will then begin his consular duties at a hotel in the capital until restoration works on the Saudi embassy in Damascus’ Abu Rummaneh neighborhood, which had been closed since 2012, are completed.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry has not commented on the report.

As Assad regained control of much of Syria’s territory in the past years, some countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have rekindled their ties with the government.

Could making ‘domicide’ a war crime bring justice?

Omar Albam from Idlib and Cathrin Schaer published a detailed report for DW, in which they explained the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades decision to suspend their military operations.

Recently, the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades announced a suspension of their military operations against American forces in the region, aiming to put pressure on the Iraqi government. Following this announcement, a noticeable calm prevailed over American bases in Iraq and Syria, particularly after a significant attack on the “Tower 22” base on the Jordanian-Syrian border resulted in three US soldiers’ deaths and 40 injuries.

The US Department of Defense acknowledged the Brigades’ ceasefire but emphasized that they would judge the situation based on actions rather than statements. In response to the recent attack and ongoing threats, the US is planning to strengthen air defenses at its base on the Jordanian-Syrian border, which previously lacked advanced air defense systems.

Meanwhile, the “International Coalition” led by the US continues its military training in Syria, with reports of explosions at the “Al-Omar Oil Field” base in Deir ez-Zor, indicating ongoing live ammunition drills.

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