Russians are increasingly masters in Syria, while the Iranians fall back and the coronavirus is rampant

The attempt by the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad to obscure the coronavirus crisis in Syria has now failed miserably, even in that country the spread of the virus is uncontrollable. This is also confirmed by the recent intelligence information according to which on April 12 as many as 40 militants of the Shiite paramilitary forces were hospitalized for contracting Covid-19 . Meanwhile, doctors and health workers from Abu Kamal hospital – on the border between Syria and Iraq – have been threatened by representatives of the Iranian regime, who have warned them to keep silent about the coronavirus cases present in the facility.

Obviously, the Russian military are fully aware of what is happening in Syria. They are so much that, apparently, since mid-March, they gave orders to Damascus not to mix Russian soldiers in any way with the Iranian forces present in the country (in mid-March Assad still denied the presence of Covid- 19 in the country). In mid-April, therefore, the Syrian opposition announced that the Russian military had repositioned away from the Bustan al-Qaser district of Aleppo, precisely because Shiite militiamen were present in that area.

There has recently been talk of a possible Iranian withdrawal from Syria. Apparently, rather than withdrawal, we should speak of redeployment . It is certainly true that Israel's constant raids have hit Tehran's forces hard, but instead of returning home, it appears that they are being deployed to other areas of the country. However, there is a lower presence of pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen in the areas of Deir ez-Zor, near al-Mayadin, near Palmyra and also in the capital Damascus, where there is the mosque dedicated to Sayeda Zeinab (it was especially of Afghan foreign fighters of the Fatemyoun Division). It is possible that some of these militiamen – especially Afghans from the Fatemyoun Division – were sent to the front line, in areas close to Aleppo and Idlib province. In southern Syria, on the border with Israel, there is also an increase in the presence of Lebanese jihadists from Hezbollah.

In any case, Russia has hurried to cover some gaps left by the Iranians, in particular at Deir ez-Zor, where a series of check points previously managed by pro-Iranians are now in the hands of the Russian military police, Wagner contractors Group or other Moscow-related forces. Some areas ended up under the control of the Jerusalem Brigade (not to be confused with the Iranian Quds Force), a militia formerly linked to Iran and now appears to be directly controlled by the Russians. Russians who seem to have also managed to control the National Defense Force (NDF), a Syrian pro-government militia, whose members in recent months have complained about the non-payment of their wages by both Damascus and the Iranians. It now appears that several NDF commanders have ended up on the Russian payroll. In intelligence reports, it is stressed that the crisis with the Iranian Pasdaran began precisely because of the coronavirus crisis.

The above demonstrates two things: the competition between Russia and Iran in Syria, which is not only military but also political (think of the recent defection of Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf); and that the Russians are able to quickly cover the Iranian voids, showing that they now have a position considered certainly stronger and generally accepted in the country than the Iranian one.

That said, the redeployment of Iranian militiamen must be of concern, not only on a military level, but also on a health level. The coronavirus crisis in Syria is covered by censorship and, as known, Tehran in turn hides the real data. The risk that the infection degenerates outside Syria, perhaps with the arrival of Shiite and Sunni militiamen from Syria to Libya, must worry everyone, Italy in the lead, especially in the face of the risk that 20,000 migrants leave North Africa to arrive in Europe.

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL on Fri, 19 Jun 2020 04:02:00 +0000.