Russia and Iran. Continuous struggle over influence in exchange of money and temptations, the conflict’s winner tends to be “Tehran” amid Russian attempts to restraint it
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
Syrians are hardly emerge from a crisis until they fall in a more difficult and deadly crisis than its predecessor, despite the calm pace of clashes and war over the past few months after the defeat of the Islamic State Organization; and the decline in influence of opposition and jihadi groups, a new kind of competition has emerged over the Syrians and their lives, where what looks like the “cold war” has erupted between Russia and Iran over influence inside Syria, despite the fact that both countries are supposedly allies supporting the regime of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and although Assad’s regime has virtual regained control of nearly 60% of Syria’s total area; the situation on the ground points to massive tensions and the war between Russia and Iran, in order to gain as much influence as possible in Syria, amid efforts to attract Syrians by each party and take control of the Syrian decision alone to its advantage, through several different methods and means. And according to sources of the Syrian Observatory, the change in loyalty has become widespread thing in regime forces’-controlled areas, where the distinction between a person loyal to “Moscow” or “Tehran” is only clear in some prominent names that have moved from being loyal to Iranian to being loyal to Russia, such as “Sohail al-Hassan”. And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights sources pointed out that “there are Iranian-funded schools in the western countryside (the Alawite), where Iranian-funded public schools are spread there and the teachers enter and stay (peace be upon the Alawite youth), also the teachers are given double salaries”.
Food aid, Russia and Iran take advantage of the Syrian’s needs
Over the past few months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored a conflict between Russia and Iran over attracting young Syrians through aid and recruiting in their respective forces and factions in regime-controlled areas. According to reliable sources, “the Russian-Iranian conflict remains focused on influence on the Syrian soil, where this conflict takes many forms, including conflict through food aid, exploiting vulnerability, hunger, poverty, poor purchasing power, displacement, and homelessness suffered by the Syrian citizens as a result of 8 years of war.” Last April reliable sources documented the distribution of Russian forces for aid to areas in the western and northwestern sectors of Hama countryside, as well as distributing gifts for children and humanitarian and food assistance in areas near the contact lines with Turkey-loyal factions and organizations, at a time when Iranian Forces are exploiting needs of the population west of Euphrates, south of Syria, and the area between them; to provide them with humanitarian and food assistance through charitable kitchens and other centers, which provide the citizens with assistance in addition to providing salaries to volunteers starting from 150 US$. Also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored during the past period a conflict between the Russians and Iranians for influence, not only for the sake of influence, but also a conflict for money, where the “Observatory” obtained documented information indicating that the conflict between both allies of the Syrian regime turned into a conflict over checkpoints, authority, and inspection points in the Syrian desert and in the area from Homs to the western banks of Euphrates River. The Syrian Observatory monitored the presence of about 40 checkpoints of the pro-Iranian and pro-Russian militias, starting from the outskirts of “Homs” city to “al-Bokamal” city in the eastern sector of Deir Ezzor countryside on the western banks of Euphrates River, where these checkpoints compete and fight over checkpoints which generate huge daily profits of money. The sources confirmed to the “Syrian Observatory” that revenue of royalties imposed is about 100 million Syrian pounds on a batch of tankers loaded with oil and its derivatives, where these tankers in particular are not allowed to pass without paying royalties.
Recruitment for money, “Tehran” plays on the sectarian aspect and poverty of citizens
And according to sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian desert and most of the country’s territory has become a battleground; along with the recent rise in number of volunteers among Iranian Forces and their militias to about 1385 of different ages in the west Euphrates area in Deir Ezzor countryside, while the number of volunteers in Syrian south has increased to more than 2470, this indicates that the Iranian expansion operation in the Syrian interior continues militarily from the west of Euphrates River to the Syrian south and the border with the occupied Syrian Golan, at a time when Israeli warplanes are carrying out strikes and raids on their positions in the Syrian territory. Informed sources revealed to the “Syrian Observatory” that the Iranian Forces and their loyal militias continue the recruitment secretly in their favor in both the Syrian south and the western banks of Euphrates River, through its godfathers or locations converted to centers of spreading Shiism, such as “Saraya al-Arin” of the 313th Brigade north Daraa, in addition to other centers in al-Laja area and other areas in Daraa countryside, al-Mayadin city, its suburbs, al-Bokamal area, and others in Deir Ezzor countryside west of Euphrates River.
And according to sources of the “Syrian Observatory” that came in exchange of the material generosity and continued play on the religious and sectarian aspect through the continuous “Shiism” operations, where the number of Young Syrian men and men of different ages who have been recruited in ranks of the Iranian forces and their militias recently after the “Shiism” operations reached about 2200 people, in the west Euphrates area in Deir Ezzor countryside, against the backdrop of the Russian involvement in military operations and agreements with the Turkish “guarantor” north of Syria. On the 27th of July 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that Iran was attracting more fighters to recruit them within its ranks, as well as removing all obstacles that could disturb its full control of the area, especially with the presence of a Russian-backed NDF militia, where the Iranian militias are restraining the “NDF” by scaling it down and limiting its influence in the area. Also, on the 14th of May 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the continuation of converting to Shiism operation in “al-Bokamal” and “al-Mayadin” area and the surrounding areas, in exchange for large amounts of money, in a continuous exploitation of the poor living conditions, in addition to playing on the religious and sectarian aspects.
According to the “Observatory’s” information, the most prominent evidence of the Iranian influence and its limitation of “NDF”, is what happened in “al-Mayadin” city on the 24th of July 2019, where a military force of the Iranian militias surrounded a checkpoint of the NDF militia in the Kornish Street in al-Mayadin city in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, and they called on the NDF to withdraw immediately from the checkpoint which is being used by the regime forces in smuggling operations, and indeed, the members withdrew without any resistance and then members of the Iranian militias deployed in the checkpoint and raised the Iranian flag in the area. it doesn’t stop there, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed on the 15th of July 2019 that tens of NDF militias in al-Mayadin had joined the Iranian forces there. And according to informed sources: about 50 members of the NDF defected without informing their leaders in order to join the ranks of Iranian Forces, arguing that they had not received their monthly salaries for 5 months, while the Iranian forces give fighters $150 a month in addition to food baskets and medical services. And according to the sources, “NDF Leadership” made a formal request to the Iranian Forces in order to bring back the 50 members, which was rejected by the Iranian militias and considered that the members became part of their arsenal in Deir Ezzor.” It does not stop there, reliable sources monitored Iran’s attempts to go deep in the Syrian provinces through its godfathers, who are attracting young people and men and polish the image of the Iranians in front of the Syrians, especially south of Syria, which is witnessing continuous operations of converting to Shiism in secret and public, and this operations has expanded and reached al-Hasaka Province, which is controlled by the SDF, and this was met with resentment by Russia.
According to information obtained by the “Syrian Observatory”: after the Islamic State organization faded and ended in “Baghuz” area and east of Euphrates as a dominant military force; the operations of escaping from the Organization’s large enclave within the Syrian desert continues, where the “Syrian Observatory” monitored the escape of members of the Organization from those area through smuggling operations organized by members of the militias loyal to Iran and the regime forces to get them to borders of Idlib province, and to areas of control of the factions and Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham for a sum of $1500 per person. Reliable sources confirmed that the smuggling operations are carried out through transferring members of the organization and their families in military vehicles in various ways, to reach crossings of the contact areas with the areas that are not controlled by the regime in Idlib.
Also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored volunteering operations by former defected members of the regime and those wishing to “settle their situation” and former fighters in the ranks of regime’s opponents and citizens of Deir Ezzor Province; in the ranks of Iranian forces, after being lured by the monthly salaries and choosing between moving to the place of service and the fronts or to stay at the training center west of Euphrates River. And according to information of the “Syrian Observatory”: “the temptations include immunity from the regime forces and the arrests, while the process of volunteering is conducted in exchange for money allocated to them as monthly salaries, and the salaries vary from the west of Euphrates to the south of Syria, where salaries start from $150 to about $300 USD, depending on its proximity to the border with the occupied Syrian Golan, the closer the distance the higher the salary for the volunteer members. Also there are attempts to lure the people by trying to restore their rights, like those whose property has been seized by volunteers and recruited persons of the Iranian militias, to gain the friendliness and satisfaction of the population and push them to join its ranks, they also distribute food, clothing, blankets and supplies for life and study which have Persian writings on them. Ad in the process of expanding, the Iranian forces are preventing the regime forces from violating the population and they return rights to the population, where now the people are going to the Iranian Forces to recover their property and rights which have been stolen by members of the regime forces and the militiamen loyal to them.
Coalitions with Turkey, Moscow’s way of pulling the rug out from under the Iranians
On the other side, Russia is trying by all means to pull the rug out from under the Iranians, through Coalitions and agreements with Turkey and other militias and factions operating in Syria, where informed sources monitored a disagreement between Russia and Iran about “Tal Rifaat” area, of which Russia promised Turkey to hand it over to it in exchange for opening of Damascus – Aleppo international road and Aleppo – Latakia international road, which Iran rejects because of the existence of the cities of Nubl and al-Zahraa which have religious and symbolic importance to “Tehran”.
According to reliable sources, Russia has asked the leaders of the Syria Democratic Forces that they must find a solution to stop the Iranians’ expansion in al-Hasakah and in the Syria Democratic Forces’ controlled areas. Also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed on the 24th of June 2019 that the Russians failed to manage the military operations north of Syria, in which Iran is still outweigh Russia, of only that, but also Russia has not been able to stop the Iranian in the south and east of Syria. And according to information obtained by the Syrian Observatory, all Russians’ efforts so far to stop the Iranian expansion have failed, increasing the failure of the Russian policy in Syria, the continued failure of it and for the Syrian regime in reopening the al-Suqaylabiyah – Muhradah road; and keep the factions and Jihadis away from the areas that are inhabited by Christian citizens of whom the Russian Church claims to protect on Syrian territory.
On the 6th of June 2019, the Syrian Observatory learned that Russia -as part of its continued attempts to reduce Iran’s presence in the Syrian north- had reinforced its positions in Tal Rifaat to limit Iran’s expansion in the area, but the Iranians continue to expand in southern Syria, Deir Ezzor, and other places in Damascus and Rif Dimashq, by continuously attracting men and young people through its network of godfathers and agents there. On the 17th of April 2019, sources of the Syrian Observatory revealed that the Russian – Iranian conflict continues to gain as much influence as possible, in light of the stagnation of military operations and being limited to a ground and air escalation north of Syria, where both parties used the situation in order to strengthen its power on the ground and expand its influence in order to exclusively control the Syrian decision.
According to what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored and the information obtained from multiple sources; the conflict tends to be in favor of the Iranian side despite the main Russian presence within the headquarters; and is control of the Syrian decision most of the time, where Iran has been able to expand its influence and attract thousands of Syrians in its ranks not only in exchange of money, but also by taking advantage of the sects and religions, as well as recruiting young people of compulsory service age in their ranks in exchange for not being withdrawn to serve in “army of the homeland.” Also, according to what the “Syrian Observatory” monitored, the Iranian expansion was not accepted by the Russians and their followers and loyalists on the Syrian territory, where Russia sought to rein in Russia by replacing the Iranian and regime-loyal militia checkpoints in the vicinity of “Putin – Erdogan” demilitarized area; with members of the Russian loyal-and-supported 5th Corps. Also the wide spread of Iran on the military, intellectual, and sectarian levels is preventing the Russians from being able to control the Iranians at the moment, despite the global tendency in general -and Arab in particular- to fight the Iranian presence on Syrian soil, while Turkey is trying to balance its relations with the Iranian side is largely. Among Russia’s attempts to stop Iran’s involvement in Syria; Moscow has stopped Iran from interfering with domestic issues, and refrained from intervening in breaking the siege of the towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’aa in the northeastern countryside of Idlib, both of which are inhabited mostly by Shiites. Also, Russia only started southern operations after a Russian-regional agreement on the retreat of Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to areas 40 km away from the border with the occupied Syrian Golan. And after its military withdrawal, the process of taking control of Syria south began. Earlier, the Syrian Observatory monitored Russia’s proposal to withdraw Hezbollah and the Iranians and having them head west of Euphrates to fight the “Islamic State” Organization, after refusing the heading of the Iranian forces and Hezbollah to Syrian south.
The Syrian regime, powerless witness on the power conflict over its territory
In light of the Iran – Russia conflict, the Syrian regime remains powerless in the face of these two forces, and it is no longer a secret to anyone that regime’s presence has become a formal presence only, as it cannot impose its influence and decisions on any geographical area of Syria, even if this spot is the Syrian coast which used to be its source of strength in the past, to become today a battleground in which Iran and Russia fight, just like they do in Damascus, Aleppo, the Syrian south, central Syria, and all Syrian territory under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights renews its demands for the international community and all parties of the conflict, to spare the citizens civilians who have been suffering for 8 years from the scourge of war and destruction, in light of the growing poverty, suffering, and injustice suffered by all Syrians in various areas of control, especially in regime forces’-controlled areas, where each side seeks to gain as much influence as possible without regard to the situation of the helpless civilians in a conflict they have got nothing to do with.