Iran Slowly Retreats in Syria

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
The rubble of a house that according to the Syrian authorities was attacked by an Israeli airstrike, in the Damascus suburbs of Hajira, Syria, last month. (SANA via AP)

Iran is slowly pulling out of Syria in response to Israeli strikes, as well as growing domestic discontent linked to the economy and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Israeli military said Thursday.

Israel and Iran have for years been engaged in a shadow war that has recently been playing out in Syria, where Iran has been boosting its military presence along the frontier. Amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, Israel has carried out repeated strikes aimed at pushing back Iranian forces and preventing the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group that is also fighting in Syria.

The IDF described the withdrawal as “a backward movement from various locations to other locations that are further away and in reduced numbers.” It said the movement was “not massive, not overwhelming,” but that it was also “undeniable.”

The military shared its findings in a briefing with reporters and said they were based on classified intelligence, without elaborating.

Officials partly attributed the pullback to growing discontent in Iran, where the economy has cratered under U.S. sanctions and authorities have struggled to contain the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

The Israeli military also said it would be prepared to respond to any Hezbollah attack by striking homes, factories and other civilian infrastructure used by the group. The military said it had no interest in an escalation and believed the same was true for Hezbollah.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. In Gaza, it supplies the Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and training. It also supports Hamas.