analysisMiddle East

Iran is boosting its terror forces in Syria, Lebanon

Tehran appears to be creating operational support for Hezbollah and other Iranian allies in preparation for potential future escalation.

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh (left) with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran in January 2018. Credit: Iran Times via Wikimedia Commons.
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh (left) with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran in January 2018. Credit: Iran Times via Wikimedia Commons.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has in recent weeks boosted the presence of Shi’ite militia forces in Syria, to where it has deployed a significant force, and has also sent Shi’ite militia members to Lebanon as backup for Hezbollah. 

This appears to indicate an Iranian effort to create operational support for Hezbollah and other Iranian allies across the Lebanese-Syrian fronts, in preparation for potential future escalation.

IDF spokespeople have consistently stated that Israel is closely monitoring developments to its north, northeast and east amid the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias began appearing in Syria during the height of the Syrian Civil War in 2013-14, according to the Alma Center, a defense research group.

Created, trained and commanded by Iran, the militias played a key role in the victory of the Assad regime and the Shi’ite axis in Syria, with members recruited from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and sometimes, even Iran itself (Basij members).

In recent days, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that in the last 10 days of October, hundreds of members of the elite forces of an Iranian-backed militia were deployed to the border with the Golan Heights.

Some reportedly entered from Iraq and others from other Syrian regions, and all have been trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the report said, adding that their deployment is being supervised by Hezbollah.

The report also said the Syrian regime run by President Bashar Assad was not consulted regarding the deployment.

On Saturday, SOHR reported that six non-Syrian militiamen were killed in Israeli airstrikes, adding that between Oct. 19 to Oct. 31, the militias launched 15 rocket and drone attacks on United States bases in Syria.

Meanwhile, the Middle East Media Research Institute said on Oct. 31 that “since Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, signs that Iran seeks to open another front against Israel from Syria are emerging.”

The report highlighted reports of “reinforcement of forces in areas bordering Israel, with an emphasis on Quneitra and the Daraa region; the Syrian army’s heightened alert level; threats by the Shi’ite militias to open a Golan front; reports of frequent and secret visits to Syria by IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail [Ghaani]; and also visits by senior leaders of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq to areas bordering Israel and the establishment of a joint operations room comprising Iran, Hezbollah, Iran-backed militias, and the Palestinian factions.”

On Oct. 14, MEMRI reported that the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat said delegations of military officials from Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias had arrived in Syria and Lebanon “in order to gather information and coordinate their activities with ‘local’ militias ahead of their possible involvement in the conflict with Israel.”

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the second largest terror faction after Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, has been fighting alongside Hamas but also creating difficulties for it with failed rocket launches. Of the nearly 10,000 rockets fired at Israel, some 800 have been failed launches, and many of those seem to be PIJ’s.

One notorious example is the explosion in Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital parking lot on Oct. 17. Predictably, there was no shortage of outlets and commentators who rushed to blame Israel without any evidence, before it emerged that PIJ fired the rocket.

On the eve of Israel’s “Operation Swords of Iron,” PIJ had approximately 10,000 terror operatives in the Gaza Strip, compared to Hamas’s 30,000 armed operatives in the enclave.

PIJ Secretary General Ziyad Nakhleh, who took over control in 2018 and remotely commands the organization from Beirut and Damascus, met on Oct. 22 with Hamas’s Salah al-Arouri, who is in charge of terrorism in Judea and Samaria and is deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, and with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

The meeting appeared to be part of synchronization efforts among members of the radical Iranian axis.

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