Some nine years after Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) deployed military advisers and fighters to Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Israeli and U.S. officials have said Tehran is reducing its presence in Syria.
Analysts told RFE/RL that amid the reports of a movement of forces, there are no indications Iran is changing its regional strategy, which is driven by political, ideological, and security interests.
Israeli military officials said recently that Tehran has pulled some of its forces from Syria and evacuated military bases near the border with Israel due to an increase in Israeli air strikes on Iranian targets.
Israel does not discuss its military operations but officials have vowed to maintain pressure on Iran with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett saying on May 5 that “Iran has nothing to do in Syria…[and] we won’t stop before they leave Syria.”
Speaking earlier this week at a virtual event, U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said Tehran has been scaling back its presence in Syria, which he linked to tough U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the Islamic republic hard — officially infecting more than 116,000 people and killed nearly 7,000 — and record-low oil prices have added to Iran’s economic challenges.
On the military front, the January 3 assassination by the U.S. military of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani — who led the regional activities of the powerful IRGC — has dealt a heavy blow to the Islamic republic.
“We do see some withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces. Some of that is tactical because they are not fighting right now, but it also is a lack of money,” said Jeffrey at a May 12 panel hosted by the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
But analysts say there are no signs Iran is quitting Syria, the only Arab country that sided with the Islamic republic during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
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