According to the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli official source claims that Iranian Guards Corps (IRGC) forces comprising hundreds of troops recently entered Syria to assist the Assad regime, which has been battling various militant groups, including the Islamic State. In addition, according to the September 10 report, Russian forces have begun arriving at a location on Syria’s coast on the Mediterranean. Russia is putting into place both naval and air assets.
The Jerusalem Post’s source said that in view of the Islamic State’s victories and President Bashr al-Assad’s apparent inability to stop its advance in Syria, Iran and Russia appear to be collaborating in an effort to shore up his regime. Currently, the Assad government only controls about 25 percent of Syrian territory, mostly in the area where President Assad enjoys support from fellow members of the Muslim Alawi sect.
According to the source, Iranian Quds Force commander Qassam Suleimani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to seal a deal on military cooperation. The mounting losses for the Assad regime has reduced its control to the area around Syria’s capital, Damascus, which even now is under threat by Islamic State forces. Recently, Islamic State forces launched a new offensive under the cover of a terrific sandstorm in order to capture Idlib – a key city in northwestern Syria. They also captured an airbase there. Hezbollah – a Lebanese terror group that is controlled by Iran – is seeking to gain territory in Zabadani, a region in southwestern Syria.
The Alawi heartland, which is centered on Latakia and the port at Tartus - where Russia has a naval base - is also at risk. According to the source, Russia will engage the Islamic State in combat in order to preserve the Assad regime. The source continued, "I can't see the Russian presence as changing balance of power. It will apparently prolong the fighting. ISIS will never negotiate. Combat will continue in the coming year, along with the human tragedy in Syria."
Having captured Palmyra, which is northeast of Damascus, Islamic State forces are now poised to advance towards Damascus. The source expressed concern that elements of Islamic State forces have already infiltrated Damascus itself. And besides Islamic State forces, other opponents of the Assad regime (some of which have received aid from the United States), are also arrayed against the government. Currently, the Assad regime controls only Quneitra, having endured the collapse of the 52nd Division of the Syrian army near the Golan Heights and Israel. Now Queneitra is also threatened by forces opposing Assad.
On September 9, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to express concern about the Russian buildup. According to State Department spokesman John Kirby, Secretary Kerry said that the he "reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities, or buildup if you will, in Syria and made very clear our view that, if true and borne out, could lead to greater violence and even more instability in Syria." So far, Russia has not provided clear answers to the U.S. and allies about its intentions for Syria. Similarly, Russia invaded the Crimea region of Ukraine and has supported pro-Russia separatists in that country and heedless of U.S. and NATO recriminations.
Some observers see that Russian move as a means of ensuring strategic dominance over the Mediterrean region even should President Assad fall from power. Two amphibious ships unloaded military materiel at Tartus. Satellite imagery suggests that more than 100 Russian naval infantry have arrived, along with dozens of vehicles. In the last few days, at least three huge Russian Antonov An-124 "Condor" cargo airplanes offloaded building supplies and air traffic control equipment. Russia claims that the Condor planes were ferrying humanitarian supplies. Nonetheless, Russia has sent at least four warships to escort smaller naval vessels in the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Satellite imagery suggests that military supplies are being loaded onto Russian vessels at Sevastopol in the Black Sea.
UPDATE: Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on September 10 that Russian has sent military advisors and troops with the goal of securing an air base. Located near Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, the base would allow Russia to deploy both fighter aircraft and helicopter gun ships to assist the Assad regime in its now five-year long war with its armed opponents. Speaking at a press conference, Yaalon said "As far as we understand, at this stage we are talking about a limited force that includes advisers, a security team and preparations for operating planes and combat helicopters." Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov confirmed on September 10 that Russia is sending both humanitarian aid and military supplies to the beleaguered Assad regime.
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