The Iranian units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and most of the Shiite foreign militia have been almost completely withdrawn from the province of Damascus to areas adjacent to the border with Iraq in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Part of the personnel was sent to permanent garrisons in Iran and Iraq.
Speaking in Washington, US Secretary ofState Mike Pompeo hastened to declare the success of President Donald Trump's the sanctions against Tehran. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey also ascribes the victory to Washington's foreign policy, making an overture to Moscow. He claims that Russia has also exerted appropriate pressure on Iran in order to reduce Syria's dependence on it.
Local observers, not without third party influence, thrive on the information about the Iranian leadership's moves and try to persuade ordinary people that these events stem from a collusion between Israel, the US-led Western coalition and Russia. Because each of the parties benefits from the withdrawal of Iranian troops and militia loyal to them from Syria.
Ultimately, such an interpretation aims to undermine Moscow's influence in Syria and the entire Middle East. As well as to exaggerate the media-induced hoax about aggravated Russian-Syrian relations and intentions to replace Bashar al-Assad with another leader.
In fact, actions of the Iranian military and political leadership are driven by purely pragmatic reasons. It is no secret that US-European sanctions are quite painful to Iran, although not fatal.
Reasons for the decreased military presence in Syria have an integrated nature: Iran's economy is struggling to overcome the consequences of a massive coronavirus epidemic, with costs associated with maintaining a force grouping and foreign Shiite militias significantly exacerbating the country's internal situation. Especially since the Syrian government army is not currently conducting active military operations in the North-West but accumulates reserves for subsequent battles.
The dispersal of Iranian military facilities in Syria would seem to provide enhanced security from Israeli actions. However, everything is exactly the opposite. For various reasons, the Syrian air defense forces are unable to protect the Iranians from Israeli attacks. Therefore, the IRGC command decided to cut the number of forces and create a defense area in the east of the Deir ez-Zor Governorate.
Military facilities of the IRGC and pro-Iranian militias are handed over to the Syrian government army, while Iranian units are being stationed along the right bank of the Euphrates river from the Abu Kamal border point with Iraq to the city of Mayadin. To date, a set of field works has been carried out in this area: firing and technical positions for military equipment, arsenals with weapons and property have been created, personnel camps and other infrastructure facilities have been built.
There is a good chance that Iran intends to deploy its own air defense systems in the area to protect its military facilities from enemy air efforts.
Thus, the ongoing activities should not be seen as a withdrawal, but rather a regrouping of Iranian forces and assets aimed to preserve their combat and surge capability: the IRGC has full control over the border crossing to Abu Kamal and maintains the ability to transport goods from Iran to Syria through Iraq. Tehran has not abandoned its strategic goal of reaching the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, a few days ago the US Al-Tanf military base hosted a meeting of leaders of the pro-American armed groups of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, "Fearless revolutionary groups" and "Selective forces" to allegedly unite efforts in combating ISIL (international Muslim terrorist group banned in Russia).
However, according to information leaked to the open media, military actions will have to be conducted against Iranian troops and Shiite militias loyal to Tehran stationed in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate.