The Israeli broadcaster Kan 11 has revealed the identity of the new commander of Iranian operations in Syria, Ali Assaf, a Lebanese national and former member of Hezbollah. Assaf belongs to the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). His appointment comes amidst talk of tensions between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the IRGC’s current commander.
Kan 11 quoted intelligence sources as saying that Assaf is the new commander working for Iran in Syria. He is responsible for Iran’s military stance and operations in Syria.
According to the Israeli report, the new Iranian Forces Commander is responsible for training troops and smuggling weapons from Iran into Syria.
According to a report by the Israeli website Walla, Assaf has been leading Hezbollah’s movements and plans in southern Syria in recent years, seeking to create a second Hezbollah there.
Reports of differences between Assad and Iranians
Ali Assaf’s appointment follows media reports of tensions and disagreement between the Assad regime and Mustafa Jawad Ghafari, the commander of the Quds Force in Syria. The disagreements stemmed from Ghafari’s activities in Syrian territory, which displeased the regime.
These reports, which Syria TV could not confirm, indicated that Bashar al-Assad and senior officials of his regime had removed Ghafari because they were not satisfied with his actions as a representative for Iranian forces in Syria.
The regime has accused the leader of Iran’s Quds Forces of bypassing customs and smuggling goods, with a view to creating a “black market” that competes with — and harms — the Syrian market.
According to reports, the regime complains that Iranian forces in Syria are exploiting natural resources for their own interests, while also looting sources of wealth and evading taxes.
The regime reportedly has been dissatisfied with Iran’s military activity against Israel and U.S. forces in the region, which has occurred without Assad’s approval. Assad fears an unwanted regional war, especially after Iran’s attack on the U.S. base in Syria’s al-Tanf area, which is located in the border triangle with Jordan and Iraq, on October 20th.
In addition, Ghafari deployed Iranian troops and weapons in certain parts of Syria without the regime’s knowledge or approval.
The Israeli press has heeded these “unofficial” reports and portrays the issue as Assad’s retaliation for Iran’s presence in Syria, which is in Israel’s interest and its ongoing battle to strike against Iran and its military position near the Israeli borders.
Why has the frequency of Israeli shelling in Syria increased?
The reports come against the backdrop of a spike in Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria in recent weeks, with Tel Aviv launching seven separate strikes within a month. This trend gathered pace after Russia and Israel reached understandings at the summit featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Russian resort of Sochi in October.
The Israeli reports follow the Israeli army’s discovery of new threats in Syria. Specifically, these are Iran’s transfer of sophisticated weapons to Syria, particularly air defense systems and drones, as well as precision missile arsenal.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the recent Israeli escalation, as well as the intensified strikes against Iran’s presence in Syria, serve the interests of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Russian allies.
In a report published last Tuesday, the newspaper pointed out that the removal of Iran from the Syrian arena constitutes a common interest for all actors in the Syrian issue, primarily Assad and Putin.
In another report, the newspaper commented that recent Israeli strikes favor the Assad regime and the Russians, given that they reduce Iran’s role in progressing to the next phase of reconstruction.
Ron Ben-Yishai, Yedioth Ahronoth’s security and military commentator, said that Bashar al-Assad has made it clear to the Iranians that he does not want Iran to challenge Israel or drag Syria into a devastating conflict.
Ben-Yishai, known for his close ties to the Israeli state, noted the Bashar al-Assad regime is eager to avoid confrontation with Israel, into which Damascus is being dragged by Iran. The stance also matches the regime’s current focus, having regained control of most areas of the country, on the issue of reconstruction with the help of Sunni Arab states and Russia.