Fidaa Itani

Nothing new on the southern front

Recent Iranian involvement in the Syrian civil war suggests a desire to secure Tehran’s regional and international interests

Illustration by Muwaffaq Qat, a Syrian painter and cartoonist. (Image via alarab.co.uk)

What the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah and the Syrian Armed Forces are doing on the southern front cannot be classified as new, or as a strategic shift in the war. However, it is a big shift in terms of policy.


On the southern front, opposition fighters are trying to repulse attacks launched by the IRGC. The duration of engagements has been relatively short; despite all the talk in the media about the importance of the battle for the south, liberation of Quneitra and reaching the border with Israel, military operations lasted for no more than three days.


Operations began on 7 February and effectively ended with the attacking forces incurring heavy losses on 11 February.


The counterattack launched by military formations on the southern front — or “uniting the banner” as the operation was called — only lasted two days. After that a snowstorm came, stopping everything and enforcing a ceasefire.


As visibility returned, Syrian regime warplanes and helicopters began to target all villages in Quneitra, as well as a number of villages in the Daraa area.


No doubt the coalition of IRGC, Hezbollah, and Syrian regime forces will carry out additional operations. Whether they reach Al-Harah — the declared target area of combat operations — or not makes no difference; the real target is something else entirely.


On the moral level, the secular-religious coalition’s media machine is still working to stamp out the last remnants of self-liberation in the only place the Syrian revolution still exists. In comparison to the dozens of institutions Iran funds or supports in one way or another, opposition media is extremely weak; for every 100 articles claiming the coalition’s target is Israel, you find one article or amateur website saying the real goal is to kill off the revolution and complete Israel’s siege.


In the end, one impression settles in people’s minds: that the coalition is confronting Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, and that it aims to confront Israel — as if the coalition didn’t already exist four years before the revolution. Although 8,000 fighters from the two opposing sides faced each other in the Damascus-Daraa-Quneitra triangle, none of the coalition’s supporters will believe that only 60 Jabhat al-Nusra members were involved. The same applies to some of the Arab World’s remaining fence sitters.


This is nothing new as far as the southern front is concerned. Propaganda by the regime and its allies — or perhaps we should say Iran and its allies — has always been the same. Pro-coalition media has always sought to show that people living in the “liberated” areas of Syria, young and old, are all takfiri terrorists, and nothing else — people inhabiting regime-controlled areas are potential victims whose heads will roll if they are left to do as they please, given the chance to express their political opinions or if the regime is defeated by the revolution.


The new element was Iran’s desire to declare a swift victory, before the beginning of negotiations on its nuclear program, which were scheduled to be held in the last few days of February. Of course, this had nothing to do with political Islam, takfiris or the Syrian regime, and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with fighting Israel or supporting peoples less fortunate than the Iranian people — It was just the Iranian Republic following its interests as usual.


This is the only explanation for the scramble to crush the last small areas where the revolution still exists, destroy the groups fighting on the southern front (the Free Syrian Army’s last stronghold) and reach the Jordanian border.


It is the only explanation for the acceleration of attacks in the north and the attempt to break the siege on Nubl and Zahraa, and reach the Turkish border.


Perhaps this hastiness is what caused the harsh blows the attacking forces received in the south and the north (when they tried to advance beyond Deir al-Adas in the south, and when they tried to infiltrate areas beyond Bashkuy and Hardatnayn north of Aleppo.)


Nevertheless, one thing is certain: there is nothing new in southern Syria. Aside from military operations, which will resume (or have already resumed), Iran’s true goal is not to dominate southern Syria, or the border with the occupied Golan Heights. Israel has nothing to fear: it knows the enemy approaching its borders well. They have danced many times, in many different arenas.


The new development is the continuous statements Iran has been addressing to the West about how its influence stretches from Tehran to Baghdad, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, and perhaps even Egypt. This is exactly what supporters of the “resistance against Israel” theory don’t want to hear. Talk in the media of “uniting the field from Tehran to Lebanon in response to the danger ISIS poses to all” is the rallying call of a vainglorious occupation that will not spare anyone or anything in its path.


There is nothing new on the southern front in Syria. What is new is the belief among leaders in Tehran that harvest time has come.


Fidaa Itani tweets @Fidaaitani


This article has been translated from the Arabic by Ullin Hope. 

Illustration by Muwaffaq Qat, a Syrian painter and cartoonist. (Image via alarab.co.uk)

Talk in the media of ‘uniting the field from Tehran to Lebanon in response to the danger ISIS poses to all’ is the rallying call of a vainglorious occupation that will not spare anyone or anything in its path.”

  • Beiruti

    the IRG is on the "southern front" that is the one that interfaces with Israel, not to threaten Israel but to isolate Israel from the anarchy that is Syria and possible attack from ISIS. ISIS is, at its core the Military Council of Saddam Hussein's former Ba'ath regime in Iraq, the common enemy of both Iran and Israel. This is the act of old allies acting on each others behalf.

    February 25, 2015