Quds Force chief visits eastern Syria amid intensified Israeli strikes

An Iranian news agency on Saturday reported a visit by Esmail Ghaani, the chief of the Quds Force to eastern Syria, in a rare public announcement of a trip to Iran’s regional battlefields by the successor of Qassem Soleimani, the Iran Quds Force commander killed by the United States in January.

The visit to Syria came as Israel intensified its air campaign against Iranian targets there. Tehran usually refrains from revealing the extent of its casualties as a result of Israeli strikes.

But Iranian media reported Saturday that the bodies of two Revolutionary Guards members killed in Syria four year ago were repatriated after being recently found and identified.

New air strikes targeted positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militias in east Syria on Saturday killing “six members of pro-Iranian militias,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Four Syrian nationals were among those killed in the raids on the al-Abbas village near the border with Iraq, in the countryside of Al-Bukamal city, east of Deir ez-Zor, said SOHR.

The war monitor did not confirm who was behind the attack but said airstrikes “are believed to be Israeli.”

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Ghaani had visited Abu Kamal, on the border with Iraq, in the past few days. It later deleted the report without explanation. Other Iranian news media made no mention of the visit.

Esmail Ghaani is the replacement for Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s military commander, who directed Iran’s expansionist campaigns in the region, directly and through proxy militias in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

He was killed by a US drone strike at Baghdad airport, last January.

Tasnim quoted Ghaani as describing Islamic State (ISIS) fighters as “agents of Israel and the United States,” a common claim used by Iran to justify its presence in Syria.

Israel has regularly struck positions of Iran and its Hezbollah proxies inside Syria. On Tuesday, the Syrian army said it responded to Israeli strikes on southern, central and eastern Syria in which two regime soldiers were killed.

The Quds Force under Soleimani was instrumental in arming and directing extremist militias that carried out Iran’s interventionist agenda in the region. It fought on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the nine year Syrian war.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.

It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah.

The Israelis rarely confirm details of its operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of President Bashar al-Assad is a threat and that it will continue its strikes.

US and Israeli media reports talked of redeployment of Iranian and Iran-backed troops, including members of Lebanon Hezbollah, to new positions in Syria.

Earlier this week, Israeli strikes in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and the southern province of Suweida killed seven fighters, including two Syrian soldiers.

 

This article was first published in the Arab Weekly and was reproduced by permission.