Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and will rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, five sources familiar with the matter said.
The Guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since arriving a decade ago to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war. Since December, Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of their members, among them one of the Guards’ top intelligence generals.
As hardliners in Tehran demand retaliation, Iran’s decision to pull out senior officers is driven partly by its aversion to being sucked directly into a conflict bubbling across the Middle East, three of the sources told Reuters.
While the sources said Iran has no intention of quitting Syria – a key part of Tehran’s sphere of influence – the rethink underscores how the consequences of the war ignited by Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel are unfolding in the region.
Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.
One of the sources – a senior regional security official briefed by Tehran – said senior Iranian commanders had left Syria along with dozens of mid-ranking officers, describing it as a downsizing of the presence.
The source did not say how many Iranians had left and Reuters was unable independently to determine that.
The news agency could not reach the Guards for comment and the Syrian information ministry did not respond to emailed questions for this story.
Iran has sent thousands of fighters to Syria during the Syrian war. While these have included members of the Guards, officially serving in the role of advisors, the bulk have been Shi’ite militiamen from all over the region.
Three of the sources said the Guards would manage Syrian operations remotely, with help from ally Hezbollah. The Lebanese group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another source, a regional official close to Iran, said those still in Syria had left their offices and were staying out of sight. “The Iranians won’t abandon Syria but they reduced their presence and movements to the greatest extent.”
The sources said the changes so far had not had an impact on operations. The downsizing would “help Tehran to avoid being pulled into the Israel-Gaza war,” one of the sources, an Iranian, said.
Since the Gaza war erupted, Israel has stepped up a years-long campaign of air strikes aimed at rolling back Iran’s presence in Syria, attacking both the Guards and Hezbollah – which in turn has been exchanging fire with Israel across the Lebanese-Israeli border since Oct. 8.
Israel rarely comments on its attacks in Syria and has not declared responsibility for the recent strikes there. In response to Reuters’ questions, the Israeli military said it did not comment on foreign media reports.
In one of the attacks, on Jan. 20, five members of the Guards were killed, Iranian state media reported, including a general who ran intelligence for the Quds Force, which is responsible for the Guards’ overseas operations. The strike flattened a Damascus building.
Another, on Dec. 25 outside Damascus, killed a senior Guards adviser responsible for coordinating between Syria and Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers at his funeral.
Reuters spoke to six sources familiar with Iranian deployments in Syria for this story. They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Source » reuters