Reports: Russian Moves to Vacate Hezbollah from Syria Trigger Infighting with Iran

Russia to host Putin-Erdogan-Rouhani summit on Syria
AFP Nazeer AL-KHATIB

Deadly infighting erupted in recent days between Russian-backed and Iranian-allied fighters loyal to dictator Bashar al Assad, several news outlets reported this week.

Support from Russia and Iran allowed Assad to remain in power and gain control of more territory than any other warring party in Syria, including the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the northern part of the country. Ahram Online reported Friday that Moscow and Tehran are currently competing for influence over the Assad regime and territory in the country. The news outlet revealed that Russian-backed fighters within the Syrian military have engaged in deadly battles with Iranian-allied regime soldiers in recent days.

“As part of Russian plans to undercut Iran’s military role in Syria,” Moscow has already forced members of Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah to vacate certain areas, Ahram found.

Ahmed Rahal, a military analyst, told Ahram:

Russia is confronting Iran in Syria for two reasons. First, there is the Israeli-US pressure and the insistence that Iran has no place in Syria. Second, there is the fact that Russia does not now need Iran since the fighting in Syria is almost over.

Only one rebel stronghold remains in the Syrian province of Idlib held by an al Qaeda-linked group, which now controls more territory than any other opposition or terrorist group.

On Wednesday, an anonymous Syrian official told the Iraqi Kurdish media outlet Bas News that the Russian military recently “blew up” targets held by Iranian militias, marking “the first time the Russians attacked Iranian targets in Syria,” the Jerusalem Post reported, echoing other outlets.

Reporting from inside Syria, Ahram Online also highlighted recent clashes between Assad’s allies Iran and Russia in Syria.

“Military disagreements are erupting between Russia and Iran in Syria, including indirect clashes that could mark the end of their tactical alliance,” the news outlet revealed on Friday, adding:

Battles have broken out using heavy weapons between Russian-backed militias and Iranian-backed groups in Syria amid disputes over areas of influence, with fighters on both sides being killed in battles. … Russia succeeded in loosening the grip of the pro-Iran forces and attempted to end the fighting before it spread without dismantling all the pro-Iran forces and expelling them from the area.

Ahram identified the soldiers involved in the fight as members of regime military divisions backed by Russia and the Iran-allied Syrian Republican Guard.

“Both sides brought in military reinforcements in preparation for future more extensive battles,” Ahram warned.

Citing members of Syrian opposition groups, Ahram reported that the infighting among the pro-Assad coalition is “ongoing.”

An unnamed spokesman of the rebel group Al-Nasr Army reportedly indicated “that there was an ongoing Russian-Iranian battle for control of the regime.”

Ahram added:

He said that Russia did not want pro-Iranian military forces on the front line with the Syrian opposition, due to its desire to prevent Iran’s domination of the regime army, especially after Tehran had sent thousands of foreign fighters into Syria.

Iran has reportedly deployed at least 25,000 Shiite fighters to fight on behalf of Assad, including members of its Lebanese-based proxy Hezbollah and the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since September 2015, Russia has been providing air support to Iranian-backed Shiite militants loyal to Assad, including the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Despite the ongoing tension between Iran and Russia, Ahram noted that the situation is unlikely to escalate further given that the two sides need one another.

“The Iranian militias and Russian air coverage have resulted in advances on the ground, making it likely that this military alliance will remain in place for the time being,” the outlet pointed out, later adding,“Both sides may want to hide the tensions between them, but if matters escalate it will likely be in favor of Russia more than of Iran.”

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