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Iran’s Regime Reportedly Doubts Bashar Al-Assad’s Loyalty

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The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat has published an article about the Iranian regime’s strategy in Syria. The introduction of the article reads: “Has Iran reduced its military presence in Syria? This may imply a relative abandonment of its strategic position in confronting Israel. However, it is unclear whether Tehran is doing this as a temporary tactical move or as an advanced step in the face of imminent changes in the region.”

According to the Agence France Press (AFP), intelligence suggests that Iranian forces have evacuated their bases in Damascus and southern Syria to the Golan Heights border. This precautionary decision comes after attacks targeted some of the most prominent commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Iran is no longer the dominant power in Syria after the “latest painful attack.” Media reports, some of which relayed information from Iranian sources, attempted to present the notion that Tehran is reducing its presence in Syria.

According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi politicians, including a Shiite leader in the “Coordination Framework” coalition, doubt that Tehran would sideline the strategic importance of Syria. The Iraqi politician told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, “Despite Iraqi militants’ readiness to fill the void left by Iranian military personnel, the operation could be a camouflage.”

Meanwhile, AFP, citing a source close to Hezbollah Lebanon, reported that “Hezbollah fighters and other Iraqis have replaced Iranian forces on the outskirts of Damascus, Daraa, Quneitra, and Damascus.” Two sources close to Iraqi factions said that “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba received requests from Tehran to send experienced field militants to Syria. However, they did not confirm whether these militants had actually gone there.”

According to an Iraqi official, the Iranian regime is conducting an investigation but it “is taking precautionary measures,” emphasizing that “the reduction in military presence only pertains to high-ranking individuals openly associated with the Revolutionary Guard.”

On April 13, the state-run news website Khabaronline reported that Morteza Qorbani, a senior advisor to the IRGC Commander-in-Chief, addressed concerns about whether intelligence weaknesses led to the disclosure of the time and location of their meeting at the Iranian Consulate in Damascus to the enemy. He stated, “There are many spies in Syria and Lebanon, and enemy intelligence can track individuals through satellite systems and mobile phones.”Top of Form

Tehran’s suspicions are centered on 18 commanders who were assassinated in attacks attributed to Israel.

On April 20, Bloomberg TV reported that Israel was attributed to the attack on the regime’s consulate in Syria, resulting in the elimination of the entire command structure overseeing IRGC activities in Syria and Lebanon. These senior officers played crucial roles in Hezbollah’s regional operations. A senior commander of the IRGC Quds Force, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy, Mohammad Hadi Rahimi, were among the casualties. Despite believing the consulate was secure and unlikely to be targeted, plans were in motion to relocate the ambassador and consul to a new complex where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brothers reside. However, the IRGC officials chose to remain in the consulate building, where they convened shortly before the attack, according to the source.

On April 10, Mashregh News, run by the IRGC Intelligence Organization, sought to disavow the involvement of senior Assad officials in leaking information regarding the Quds Force commanders. However, it conceded, “It cannot be denied that Israel’s intelligence apparatus in Syria has achieved significant penetration due to factors such as severe poverty and internal crises, attracting numerous intelligence sources. In fact, Israel’s intelligence dominance in Syria is significant, not because Syrian officials intentionally provide information about Iranian commanders to this regime.”

In 2023, the Iranian opposition group GhiamSarnegouni disclosed that the clerical regime in Iran has spent more than $50 billion to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s regime and helped to brutally crack down on a popular uprising. Anyhow, either because of Assad’s betrayal or not, as the Iranian regime grapples with financial strain amid political and military crises in the region, it appears inevitable that it will need to reassess its strategic depth in Damascus.