Over the past few days, Syria reported that Iraqi Shiite militia were attacked by air in eastern Syria. There were major losses with media stories claiming that at least 22 were killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the death toll at 52.
A new SOHR report raises the death toll and changes the nationalities of many of the victims (italics added):
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented more casualties against the backdrop of the airstrikes that targeted joint sites of the Iranians, the regime, and their loyal militia in the al-Heri area near al-Bokamal area in the far east of Deir Ezzor at the Syrian-Iraqi border shortly before midnight on Sunday, the 17th of June 2018, where it rose to 55 including 16 members of the regime forces (including 4 officers) and 30 Iranians, while the nationalities of the other 9 are not known until now…The warplanes that target[ed] the above-mentioned sites…used the same airspace used by the International Coalition warplanes, and the death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situation.
And in a subsequent Facebook post, SOHR corrects this report by noting that 30 of the dead were Iraqis (not Iranians) and that the nine who were formerly of unknown nationality, were Iranian.
Syria originally blamed the U.S. for the assault. That’s because the only enemy air power patrolling that area till now has been American. But in an unprecedented announcement, the U.S. revealed that Israel had launched the attack.
While Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties against Hezbollah and Iranian forces in western Syria (the Golan) including Damascus, this is a major escalation in the fighting. It’s the first time Israel has attacked eastern Syria (aside from the 2007 attack on Syria’s purported nuclear reactor site). Even more shocking, this is the first time since the 1973 War that Israel has attacked Iraqi forces. Iraq also sent expeditionary forces to fight against Israel in the 1948 and 1967 conflicts.
The Iraqi militia are fighting on behalf of Iran and the IRG, and is part of the Shiite forces bolstering the Assad regime. Though estimates vary widely (from 10,000-80,000), analysts have estimated Iran has recruited tens of thousands of such militia forces from countries with Shiite majorities.
The Israeli air assault is a reckless move since it could draw other players into the Syria conflict who haven’t even played a major role till now. The Iraqi governments has denounced the attack. Given that recent Iraqi elections saw the pro-Iranian Shiite political parties win massive gains, this could draw Iraqi regular forces into the conflict in defense of the militias attacked by Israel.
Clearly, Syria has become a proxy battleground between Israel and Iran and this doesn’t bode well for the future. Bibi Netanyahu has determined that Israel must act forcefully to prevent Iran from establishing a major ongoing military presence in Syria. He believes that Iran will seek to destabilize Israel’s northern border and become a force in undermining the current balance of power there. In Israel’s long-term geo-strategic policy, military superiority over its frontline neighbors is paramount. Being challenged by a major power like Iran on its own border is a new and impermissible development as far as it is concerned.
As Iranian-American Prof. Muhammad Sahimi reminded me: of all the foreign powers meddling in the Syrian conflict, only three parties were invited by the Assad regime: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Neither Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the U.S., nor Israel have received such an invitation. Hence, they are violating Syria’s sovereignty. That has never stood in Israel’s way when it comes to exercising its military-strategic prerogatives. But for those of us who believe in international law, such “niceties” are important.
Also worth mentioning: the reason Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have their forces inside Syria is that outside powers (including Israel) sought to destabilize and even overthrow the Assad regime. Once the threat to his regime passes, there will be no further reason for outsiders to remain. Iran’s leaders have pledged to withdraw their forces once this happens. If Israel and the Trump administration truly wished to compel Iran to restrain its alleged expansionist impulses in the region, the best way to do it would be to stop intervening militarily. At that point, if Iran refused to withdraw, the world would be far more receptive to denunciations of Iran. However, it becomes impossible to persuade the world that Iran is the villain in this set-piece when there are so many other parties stirring the pot in Syria with their own intrigues.
I do not support the Assad regime. He is as much a butcher as the al Nusra and ISIS forces which once took control of large swaths of the country. But confronting the current bloody stalemate, the best option seems the withdrawal of all outside forces and leaving Syrians alone to determine their destiny.
Given the overall equilibrium, in which the U.S. has rejected the sole major international agreement which served as a restraint on Iran’s regional ambitions, it seems unlikely Iran will be receptive to the message Netanyahu is sending. This means that there is no telling where this face-off could lead. There are already 500,000 Syrian dead from the nearly decade-long conflict. The Iran-Israel struggle could drag on for years more in Syria. It is a cold, hard brutal reality that while regional powers jockey for dominance, it is the Syrians who die as a result. It reminds me of the African saying: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The only difference is that grass can recover and human beings can’t.
There are regular reports by pro-Israel journalists of an imminent agreement among Israel, Russia, and the U.S. that would either eject Iran from Syria altogether (Israel’s goal), or restrict its presence to within miles of the western frontier with Israel. Some reports have heralded these developments as a means of blocking Iran’s supposed expansionist plans in the region. The problem is that neither Assad nor Iran have been party to any talks on the subject. So there is no way of knowing whether such talk is the product of Israeli spin or whether there is substance to them. My rule of thumb is that until both parties to a conflict announce an agreement, there isn’t one–no matter what one of the parties may claim.
Colin Wright says
‘The Israeli air assault is a reckless move since it could draw other players into the Syria conflict who haven’t even played a major role till now. ‘
Shouldn’t that read ‘The Israeli air assault is a clever move since it could draw other players into the Syria conflict who haven’t even played a major role till now’?
After all, Israel’s goal is pretty obviously to promote and perpetuate strife and mayhem in Syria. Surely, it follows from that that the more players are drawn into the fighting, the better?
The Philly Freeze says
“Once the threat to his regime passes, there will be no further reason for outsiders to remain. Iran’s leaders have pledged to withdraw their forces once this happens.”
No. It is Iran that is stirring up the pot in Syria by importing foreign fighters from as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. .
Iran, more precisely, the IRGC, needs conflict in order to survive and thrive ($$$).
Iran wants a well-defended economic/military belt extending from Teheran to the Med and doesn’t give a fig about what Assad wants anymore.
Iran must protect it’s Arab proxy, Hezbollah, at all costs.
Hezbollah is the model, the template, to show how all Arabs can benefit under an Iranian hegemony.
‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’–Virgil.
Richard Silverstein says
What a laugh! Facing tens of thousands of foreign ISIS, al Nusra fighters rousted from their lairs by lucre provided by the Saudis and Qataris you focus laser-like on Iran’s alleged misdeeds. That’s the pot calling the kettle, my friend. When you comment here you must take into account all the facts including those inconvenient to you. If you don’t, you’re not only stupid, you’re arguing in bad faith.
Nor do I trust you to know what Iran “wants” or “needs.” Do you have any expertise in the field? No. Do you have any right to claim that you understand Iranian interests or objectives? No. So shut up and talk about something you not only “know” but can prove you know. That would be precious little I’m sure. But why don’t you try that?
And again as for what Iran “wants,” Israel wants unrestricted pursuit of its own interests. It want’s military superiority over its neighbors. It wants unfettered access to their sovereign territory. It wants nuclear dominance so it can shove its desires down the throats of whoever it wants. So don’t talk to me about Iranian perfidy. In comparison the Iranians are Boy Scouts. That is not a blanket endorsement of Iran or is actions. But it is a comparison to Israel in which the latter does not come out looking good.
You are done in this thread. Make sure you honor this directive. No more comments here.
Among his many barbarities, which have included torturing children to death, Assad has used poison gas against civilians, or you don’t believe that he has been responsible for that particular crime against humanity? Yet you favor this monster (BA), the son of a monster (HA) before him, over those seeking to depose him, like others died to depose Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi?!
Have you ever said a bad word about Assad, or do you save them all to use against Israel?
Richard Silverstein says
@ ray: First of all, I do not support Assad. I have written that many times here. Before making assumptions (false) about what I believe it would’ve been easy to Google search terms to discover my views on the subject. There are two evils here: Assad and the Sunni Islamists who seek to overthrow him. Neither is good. Both are bad. But facing decades of massive bloodbath that could drag the entire region into a massive sectarian conflict, do I prefer the option by which Assad continues his rule till Syrians themselves determine their future and fate? Yes.
For every crime perpetrated by Assad I can find two committed by the al-Nusra/ISIS butchers. What does that prove? Nothing.
If you ever comment here again do NOT assume my views and do NOT set me up as a straw man as you have here. Deal with my views as they are and not as you choose to interpret them. Otherwise you are acting in bad faith; and that is a red flag here.
I wrote, “… you favor this monster (BA), the son of a monster (HA) before him, over those seeking to depose him, like others died to depose Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi?!” You respond, “There are two evils here: Assad and the Sunni Islamists who seek to overthrow him. Neither is good. Both are bad.” That sure sounds like you believe the Syrian “civil” war has been a simple binary affair between two forces of Evil, like Hitler vs Stalin. Did things not start out as the evil of Bashar against ordinary citizens rising up first to protest his cruel oppression, then in an effort to overthrow him, which might have succeeded but for the intervention of Iran and Russia who Bashar invited in to save his ass? So this “civil” war (is it a civil war when those who largely determine the outcome are non-Syrians?) didn’t start as Evil vs Evil, did it? (You view the Free Syrian Army as an evil force because they were fighting to oust Assad? How about the Kurds, who proved themselves the best fighters of all, they were evil too because they joined the fight against Assad?)
If you have ever full-throatedly condemned the Assad regimes, that is HA who did such a murderous job on Homs, BA who leveled the ancient city of Aleppo, and the crew that has ridden along with them, including the Iranians, Russia, and Hezbollah. please point to the posts in which you have, so we can see if it is unfair to say that you have favored these monsters. Then no one need assume your views about Assad. (In the past, you and John Kerry touted Assad as a great hope in the region, until he made clear that he was very much not, and you now allow, if begrudgingly, that he can be counted as Evil.) The posts I have found, including the one from this April about Assad’s use of gas then, strike me as damning with relatively faint condemnation.)
BTW, but for the intervention of non-Syrians, particularly Iran’s Iron Guard, the Russians, and it seems Iraqis, do you think it was unimaginable that the Syrian might have freed themselves of the Assads, sparing perhaps 500K lives and allowing several times as many to be made refugees with little hope of returning home? As bad as things have been, and are, and promise to be for an unknowable future, don’t you think it a good think that Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor Assad was building with the North Korean’s help, or would you really like to see everyone in the region have nuclear arms?
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, way back in 2011, that’s where things stood and virtually the entire world was on the side of the majority Sunni Syrians.
A bit of amnesia you’re having? There was no: first one side did this good thing, then the other side did this bad thing. The Sunni Islamists who were not Syrian began almost immediately intervening, raising militias, seeking outside support which they found in spades from the Saudis & Qataris. So no, the Russians and other pro-Assad forces didn’t come in till the Sunnis did. The two movements were virtually simultaneous. So it just won’t work to paint one side as good or less bad, and the other as pure bad.
You conveniently point to an almost non-existent military force and conveninently neglect the only viable military forces fighting against Assad, the hardline brutal murderous Islamists of al Nusra and ISIS. Compared to them FSA are school boys. Once again, you offer a patently disingenuous argument without even acknowledging the problem you face in refusing to concede the Sunni Islamists were the only viable military force.
The Kurds are not interested in running Syria, nor do they wish to overthrow Assad (nor could they). They are regional players within Syria. THe only viable force seeking control of the entire country were the Sunni Islamists.
No, not the way this works. I don’t prove anything to you. You prove you can read and do research and you do the work if you doubt me. I don’t owe you anything nor care what you think about me or my views. I’ve already told you how to research this and anyone who knows how to use Google can find what you’re demanding I do for you.
I have NEVER done that. Now you are outright lying about me and my views. I do not accept such behavior here. You rely on facts, proof and evidence. You don’t make blanket statements unsupported by these. If you do your shelf life will be extremely short here.
Again, I’ve written about this subject before. I hate repeating myself. Don’t make me if you want to remain here. No, I don’t think whatever Israel did was a good thing. Nor does anyone know for sure what Israel destroyed. But I’d feel great about Israel destroying an Arab nuclear reactor if you’d feel great about the U.S. or an Arab state destroying Dimona. But you don’t do you. Because you’re a friggin’ racist who thinks only Israel and western states can be trusted to have nuclear weapons. Because they’re civilized and trustworthy and will only use them in the proper way, whatever that is.
I want no one in the region to have nuclear weapons. Not Israel, not Pakistan, not the Saudis, not the Iranians.
I’m not interested in getting into a pissing contest with you about who’s more evil or most evil. You are done in this thread. Do not publish here again.
In your narrative version of Syria’s part in the Arab Spring, when did 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb come in? The Iranians and Russians aren’t Arabs, are they, and haven’t you praised Iran’s supposedly peaceful, non-interventionalist beyond its own borders history?
Snarky perhaps, but show, if you can, what I say doesn’t fully comport with the facts. (And isn’t it reasonable to expect that are the expert on what Richard Silverstein has said/written in the past, so you should be the one best equipped to point to what you have written before in support of what you now claim that to have been? In the law, that’s known as the burden of production, a fundamental part of the burden of persuasion, and it’s basic logic.)
Oh yeah, this too: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/world/middleeast/un-syria-eastern-ghouta.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FSyria&action=click&contentCollection=world®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection
Or maybe you are skeptical that Assad, on whose behalf the Iranians and Russians have intervened big time militarily, has been gassing Syrian civilians. Just as you can’t be convinced that the North Koreans were building a (“purported”) nuclear reactor for Bashar, when the Israelis put an end to that project and Assad’s people wiped the site clean.
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t have a “narrative.” Watch the descriptors you choose, and do not characterize my views in ways that are deliberately tendentious or unflattering.
Nor do I base my views of any tragedy on the plight of a single person no matter how heart rending it may be. For every 13 year old girl who rends your heart I can offer 10 other 13 year old girls the other side puts up to defend their point of view.
That’s not the way territorial sovereignty works. If you lead a country you aren’t restricted in calling on help only from your own religion or ethnic group. IF that were the case, then Israel would be prohibited from getting weapons from the U.S. Assad may call upon whoever he wishes to defend his country (as he sees “defending” it, not necessarily as I see it).
I have never “praised” Iran for anything in particular. I certainly have never defended Iran’s interventions anywhere except to note that Israeli and Sunni intervention have been just as damaging. What I have done is compare Iran’s approach on various issues to the approach of the Saudis, Israeli and U.S.
For the third time–I don’t show anything to you. I don’t owe you anything. Nor will I offer you anything.
No, Google offers my work in an easily searchable format. I have a blog & freelance journalism to practice. Hearkening to your voice and fulfilling your wishes isn’t part of my agenda.
This isn’t a court and no one practices law here. Perhaps you’re in the wrong venue?
This is your last comment in this thread. Do not comment further here. This is the second time I’ve given you this warning in this thread. Respect it or you will be moderated.
[comment deleted: I don’t engage with readers or commenters on issues of editing the comment threads or interpretation of the comment rules. There were other aspects of your comment I would have replied to, but once any part of your comment violates the rules, it is deleted in full.]
[comment deleted: you are now banned. I do not allow anyone to refer to my family here and certainly not in the provocative manner you did. Nor was your claim about my wife’s practice correct. This is a deliberate and personal provocation to be met with outright banning. Not to mention that you are either using VPN or IP proxies to publish your comments. Another indication you feel the need to shield your identity and a red flag.
Nor were you correct about U.S. non profit tax law. Other than that, you’re golden.]
The Philly Freeze says
” Even more shocking, this is the first time since the 1973 War that Israel has attacked Iraqi forces”
I think it is more accurate to say that Iraq had attacked Israeli forces during the 1973 War.
‘Other Arab nations aided the Egyptians and Syrians. Iraq transferred a squadron of Hunter jet fighter planes to Egypt a few months before the war began. Iraqi Russian-built MIG fighters were used against the Israelis in the Golan Heights along with 18,000 Iraqi soldiers. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait effectively financed the war from the Arabs side. Saudi troops – approximately 3,000 men – also fought in the war. Libya provided Egypt with French-built Mirage fighters and in the years 1971 to 1973, Libya bankrolled Egypt’s military modernisation to the tune of $1 billion which was used to purchase modern Russian weapons. Other Arabic nations that helped the Egyptians and Syrians included Tunisia, Sudan and Morocco. Jordan also sent two armoured brigades and three artillery units to support the Syrians, but their participation in the war was not done with vast enthusiasm – probably because King Hussein of Jordan had not been kept informed of what Egypt and Syria planned’.-https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/the-middle-east-1917-to-1973/the-yom-kippur-war-of-1973/
I is also worth remembering that Iraq bombed Israel with missiles during the First Gulf War in 1991.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Philly Frozen: A site you neglected to mention said the Iraqi participation in the 1973 War was largely ineffective and the planes that were sent arrived so late they couldn’t even be used during the War. So it’s more likely it was the Israelis attacking the Iraqis than the other way round.