An extraordinary article in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida has claimed that Iran is seeking to create a complex deal in Syria, so as to transfer weapons from Hezbollah to Syrian regime-backed Arab tribes, as well as to send arms to Moscow.

Maariv described this as a four-way deal, one that threatens both Israel and Ukraine. The interplay between Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Syria has always been complex, with any movement benefitting Hezbollah or Iran-backed proxies seen a threat.

If true, the move could result in a concerning weapons flow, especially new Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. While moving weapons away from Hezbollah and to the tribes or to Russia appears counterintuitive – since Hezbollah tends to stockpile weapons – this could actually take the older munitions off of Hezbollah’s hands, setting it up to get the newer ones, while earning it gratitude from Moscow. This move would threaten US forces in Syria, giving Iran four wins: Aiding Russia, aiding Hezbollah, threatening the US, and threatening Israel.

Iran has historically moved weapons through Syria and on to Hezbollah. The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, shifted this equation slightly because Hezbollah intervened to help the regime, with Iranian support, which also moved IRGC troops to the area.

The goal was Iranian entrenchment. As the Syrian regime began to defeat the rebels with the help of Hezbollah, Hezbollah benefited and established itself in areas in Syria, like near Aleppo and the Golan. Iran then expanded its trading axis in Syria, moving weapons to Albukamal on the border with Iraq, and transferring them to T-4 base and to Damascus and Syria.

Then, in 2017-2018, rumors circulated that Iran might reduce its forces in Syria. However, although some IRGC members did leave, Iran’s proxies remained strong. When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, reports circulated then as well, in Arabic media, that Russia might shift forces to Ukraine, and that Iran could benefit in Syria by backfilling the Russian vacuum.

Warehouses of weapons

Al-Jarida ran reports in the past on developments in the region. This particular one is titled “Iran opens Hezbollah warehouses to the tribes of eastern Syria and Moscow,” and details how the IRGC’s Quds Force recently learned of an agreement between Russia and Iran, in which Hezbollah will “hand over a large portion of its old weapons to the Arab tribes in Syria in exchange for receiving new-generation Iranian weapons. Moscow will obtain a portion of the party’s weapons and ammunition to supply its costly war in Ukraine.”

Quds Force leader Ismail Qaani, who replaced Qasem Soleimani when he was killed by the US in 2020, recently visited both Syria and Lebanon. A “source” told Al-Jarida that they were with Qaani during this recent trip, and that Qaani agreed to help provide new weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, “in exchange for handing over to the party a large portion of its old weapons and ammunition to arm the Arab tribes fighting for the country.” These tribes are used by Syria to threaten the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are strong in eastern Syria, and to extend the regime’s influence.

Part of the goal here, then, is to threaten the SDF – by implication, the US in Syria. The report continues: “The source explained that Russia, which now needs large quantities of weapons that give its forces firepower, regardless of their type, for use in the Ukrainian war, will obtain a quantity of these ammunition and weapons that Hezbollah has accumulated in its warehouses since the 2006 war with Israel.”

The source added that the deal could also help Moscow reach an agreement between Turkey and Syria. Turkey occupies northern Syria, and has backed the Syrian rebels, using them against the SDF.

Ankara has called the SDF “terrorists,” while continuously holding talks with Russia, the Syrian regime and Iran about normalization between Turkey and Syria. But Turkey is hesitant, it wants Damascus to “remove the Kurdish factions from the Turkish border beyond a border belt 45 kilometers deep inside Syrian territory,” according to the report. In fact, Syria already made this pledge under the Adana agreement, signed between Syria and Turkey in 1998.

The report continues to say that “Ankara, Tehran and Moscow want to avoid a direct confrontation with Washington, each for its own reasons, and therefore everyone sees that the best solution is to move the Arab tribes to carry out the task of removing the SDF.” So, the recent uprising by tribes in areas near the Euphrates, which have challenged the SDF’s hold, are in fact part of a wider effort by Iran, Turkey and Russia.

The report adds that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah “had informed Qaani during their meeting in Lebanon that the confrontation with Israel had entered a new phase [focusing on] the conflict over energy sources in the eastern Mediterranean. Hezbollah needs qualitative weapons that could create a balance of deterrence with Israel.

He added that the Iranian official pledged to reach an agreement with Moscow to allow the passage of these weapons without exposing them to the risk of being exposed to the Israeli Air Force.”

This means that Hezbollah would open its warehouses of weapons, stockpiled over the last two decades, to enable the movement of those weapons to Arab tribes in Syria, not needing to travel very far. Some of these rockets, rifles, RPGs, mines and explosives are old and decaying, and Hezbollah only stands to benefit from getting rid of them. Hezbollah has an estimated 150,000 rockets and masses of weapons it illegally acquired over the decades, most of them from Iran.

Russia’s benefit lies in the arms as well, as it grants Moscow cheap ammunition and shells and rockets. It is unclear how Moscow would transfer the weapons.

As part of the deal, Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime will back Arab tribes against the US-backed SDF, and Hezbollah will receive new shipments from Iran to fill its warehouses with more advanced weapons so that it can threaten Israel.

This deal, if it happens or is even loosely based in reality, would benefit Hezbollah by making Moscow rely on the Iran-Hezbollah axis in Syria. In the past, reports have suggested that Moscow and Iran have not always been on the same page in Syria, and that Russia might reduce Iran’s role in Syria as part of its overall strategy. This report points to a reverse in the plays.

Source » jpost