Iranian officials touch a coffin bearing the remains of a soldier, who was killed in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, during a ceremony at Shalamcha border crossing, in Iraq's southern province of Basra December 11, 2011. Reuters

June 07, 2018

Ahem: Iran still has troops in Syria on Israel’s northern border

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk(*) for the reader's awareness.]

Israel and Russia reportedly recently agreed that Iranian and Iranian-backed (a.k.a. Hezbollah and others) troops would vacate areas of operation in southwestern Syria near the Israeli border.

The agreement reflects not only Israeli investments in a relationship with Vladimir Putin – presumably to the end of limiting Iran’s footprint in Syria – but also the growing concern that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are likely to bring Israel into direct conflict with Iran in Syria.

Naturally, in light of this news, observers will be “shocked, shocked!” to hear news of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards officer killed in the area.

Iranian media *reported that IRGC fighter Khalil Takhti Nejad *died in Daraa, Syria on June 3. Takhti Nejad was deployed to Syria as a member of the Imam Sajjad IRGC Hormozgan Provincial Unit and commanded operations for an unnamed base in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, approximately 20 miles from Israel’s northern border.

A few conclusions:

  • The Iranian regime wants to have their troops near the Israeli border – and are comfortable lying about it. Far from a throwaway political point, this fact relates to Iran’s commitments to its vital ally Russia and makes clear that the Israelis cannot rely on Tehran to ratchet down tensions even when faced with conflict.
  • Iran is committed to its false narrative, even at very senior levels. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani denied these reports and stated that “Iranian advisors are in no way present in Syria’s southern region,” during an *exclusive interview with Shargh on June 1. Well then, how did Khalil die, and what was he doing in southwestern Syria?

For context, we have to ask – why does the Iranian regime care enough to lie?

Perhaps because, at the very moment, their foreign minister is insisting Iran is a reliable actor on the world stage (and that the United States is not), and Iran does not want to be seen as inflaming tensions in the region?

Perhaps because Tehran is worried about pressure from Moscow?

And finally, perhaps because Iran actually does worry about the consequences of an Israeli military intervention against their forces (proxy and otherwise) in Syria?

Finally, how concerned is Tehran about Israel’s threats? Concerned enough to have indirect talks with the Israelis in Jordan. That’s pretty concerned.

Bottom line? Moscow, Paris, London, Berlin, and Jerusalem may want the Iranians to cool it in Syria. But they’re not going to. Not, at least, without another fight.