'Allies Of Syria Operations Room' – A Tool For The Implementation Of Plans Of The Iran-Led Axis Of Resistance, To Expel American Forces From Syria 

print
November 11, 2021

The following are complimentary offerings from the MEMRI Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP). For more information, write to [email protected] with "ITMP Subscription" in the subject line.

In the final two weeks of October 2021, the Allies of Syria operations room was making headlines, following its threat of a "harsh reaction" to an October 13, 2021 attack attributed to Israel, on positions of the Iranian-backed militias in the Palmyra area, in which several militiamen were killed.[1] About a week later, there was an attack on the Al-Tanf military base situated in the triangle comprising the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, where American forces are based. The Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily newspaper, affiliated with Hizbullah, reported that the Allies of Syria operations room was behind the attack,[2] although to date no official claim of responsibility has been published by the group, or any other body.

It is noteworthy that the threat made by this operations room following the attack in Palmyra on October 13, 2021, is the first statement published by the group in two years and this is the first time that it has been suggested that it was involved in an attack against the American forces in Syria.

There is scant information about this group, its composition, and its activities. According to reports from Arab media outlets which support the axis of resistance, this operations room belongs to the axis, whose other members include Iran, Hizbullah and the Shi'ite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The lack of information may be part of a deliberate policy of ambiguity, to enable Iran to operate against the U.S., Israel, and perhaps also Turkey, without entering into direct conflict with them. This would be similar to its policy in Iraq, where over the past two years many new groups have appeared, which claim responsibility for attacks on American forces, and although their affiliation to Iran is clear, next to nothing is known about their leadership or the identities of their members.[3]

The choice of the Al-Tanf military base as a target for the retaliation is no coincidence and is surely related to its strategic location that impedes Iran from establishing a bridge from Iraq to Syria for the transfer of forces and equipment, which prevents it from further entrenching its presence in southern Syria.

Reports from media outlets identified with the axis of resistance imply that the attack on Al-Tanf indicates a change in the strategy of the axis, spearheaded by Iran, regarding the American military presence in Syria, and signifies that it is now planning to confront that presence militarily. It is not unlikely that at least some of these forthcoming operations will be attributed to The Allies of Syria operations room.

This report endeavors to shed light on the entity known as "The Allies of Syria operations room" and on its activities:

Identity of the Members of The Allies of Syria operations room

The first reports about The Allies of Syria operations room appeared in 2016, but it is possible that it was established prior to that date. On December 8, 2016, the Lebanese Al-Safir daily published an interview with "the commander of the The Allies of Syria operations room." The paper did not reveal the commander's name or provide any details about the operations room itself, and the interview focused mainly on the developments regarding the fighting in the city of Aleppo and criticism of Turkey's actions.[4]

As mentioned, there is little information about the composition of the operations room or its leadership, and it rarely releases any statements. The few statements it has issued were shared by media outlets which support the axis of resistance, mainly Lebanese media outlets affiliated with Hizbullah. Moreover, when "commanders" of this operations room granted interviews, they always did so anonymously. The few statements and messages issued are usually reactions to attacks on the interests of the axis of resistance in Syria which are attributed to Israel or the U.S. or to the fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) and opponents of the Syrian regime.

However, in 2017 there seemed to be a change in approach, when details about the identities of the members of the operations room were released, and even reports which revealed that it was Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who established it. A September 16, 2017 statement from the commander of the operations room, whose identity was withheld, provided the information that the members of the operations room included Iran, Hizbullah, and other Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias, as well as Afghan and Pakistani militias. In a statement from the commander of the operations room in which he announced the launch of the Al-Fajr 3 Campaign in Syria against the rebel forces and ISIS, he mentioned that in the framework of the Al-Fajr 1 and 2 campaigns territory near the border with Jordan and Iraq was liberated thanks to the efforts of the Syrian Armed Forces and "the Iranian forces, Hizbullah, [the Iraqi] Haydariyoun, [the Afghan] Fatemiyoun, [the Pakistani] Zainebiyoun," and also to the efforts of "the popular Syrian forces with the help of the Russian Armed Forces."[5] 

About two weeks later, following the success of the campaign to defeat ISIS in the Al-Bukamal area in eastern Syria, the operations room released video clips on the Lebanese Al Mayadeen television channel, which supports the axis of resistance, which show Qasem Soleimani visiting Al-Bukamal after the victory, and apparently helping to plan attacks and advising commanders in the field.[6]

These videos support reports that Soleimani played a significant role in the operations room. A September 16, 2017 report about a statement from the commander of the operations room, which appeared in the pro-axis of resistance online newspaper Rai Al-Youm, says that, "The popular theory is that the person who published this statement, and all the similar statements which are signed by the commander of the operations room, is General Qasem Soleimani himself."[7] On November 19, 2017, the website of the Lebanese Al Mayadeen television channel, reported that there was information which revealed that it was Soleimani who directed the "operations room of the allies of the [Syrian] Armed Forces" during the campaign against ISIS in Al-Bukamal.[8] According to a report on a Syrian opposition website, Soleimani established the operations room.[9]

However, since then no additional details have been released about the operations room and it appears that this ambiguity is a deliberate policy. For example, an October 22, 2021 report in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily states only that the operations room "includes several factions,"[10] and provides no details about them. It is also unclear whether Soleimani's replacement, Esmail Qaani, plays any role in the operations room.

Spheres of Activity

As mentioned, there is little information about the activities of the operations room in the field. The September 16, 2017 statement by its commander at the time, and the video clips referred to above, demonstrate that the operations room played a role in the fight against ISIS and the Syrian rebel organizations. Until the publication of the report in Al-Akhbar on October 21, 2021, which states that the Allies of Syria operations room was responsible for the attack on the Al-Tanf military base, there were no reports about its involvement in activities against the American forces in Syria.

Since 2016, the Allies of Syria operations room has issued several statements which have focused on two main issues: condemnations of attacks against the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias in Syria which are attributed to Israel and the U.S. and threats of a harsh response, and the battle against the rebel forces and ISIS. 

Threats against the U.S. and Israel

The statements published by the operations room in response to attacks against Iranian-backed militia targets and against Syrian Armed Forces targets which were attributed to Israel or the U.S., were characterized by tough messages which included threats of a harsh and serious response against the American forces in Syria. A statement published on June 7, 2017, subsequent to "American aggression against the Syrian Armed Forces and its allies in the area of the Syrian desert," described the attack as "dangerous and irresponsible conduct which proves that the U.S. is impletmenting a hypocritical policy regarding everything concerned with the fight against terror. The U.S. is not striving for peace or to fight terror but is working to protect the nests of terror on Syrian territory."

The statement warned that the operations room has "the capability to attack the place where the American forces are situated in Syria [… by means of] missile systems and the various military systems that are available." Relating to the absence of an immediate, practical response to the attack, the statement asserted that, "The commitment of the allies of Syria to refrain from responding [to this action] is not evidence of weakness but of restraint […] This lack of response will not persist if the U.S. continues to cross the red lines."[11]  

Responding to a claim by Israel on August 10, 2018, that it had downed an Iranian drone that penetrated its airspace, the "commander of the Allies of Syria operations room" issued a statement denying the Israeli assertion and contending that Israel bombed a drone facility at the T-4 Airbase, where the mission of drones was "intelligence-gathering about terror organizations" for the Syrian Armed Forces. The statement maintained that "the drone system at our disposal played a significant role" in the fight against terror and that the Israeli attack was intended to serve the interests of the terror organizations, and that the U.S. also helps them. The statement threatened, "From now on we will not ignore actions like these and there will be a harsh and serious response."[12]

On October 14, 2021, the headquarters of the operations room published a statement following an attack on positions of the Iranian-backed militias in the Palmyra area. The statement stressed that the presence of the operations room in Syria is "legitimate" and intended to assist the regime in the fight against "terrorists," and threatened a very harsh response. The statement notes that the attack used Jordanian airspace and the airspace above the Al-Tanf military base, thus hinting at potential targets for retaliatory attacks."[13]

As mentioned above, on October 20, 2021, unidentified drones attacked the Al-Tanf base, where American forces are stationed. An article in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily attributed the attack to the Allies of Syria operations room and noted that at the same time when the operations room published its statement threatening to react harshly, "the headquarters of the resistance axis in Syria instructed its forces to carry out a wideranging deployment plan" in advance of a possible escalation. It was also reported that the response was part of "a general orientation of the forces of the axis of resistance in Syria," which had begun before the attack in Palmyra and whose goal was "to consolidate a new balance of deterrence against the Israeli and American enemy." In recent weeks, contacts and meetings took place between the commanders of the axis of resistance in Beirut, Damascus, and Tehran during which the decision was made to augment the axis forces in Syria.[14]

Article in Al-Akhbar daily: “The Allies of Syria operations room kept its promise: The Al-Tanf military base, where American forces are situated, under attack (Source: Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, October 21, 2021)

The Struggle Against the Syrian Opposition Forces and Threats Against Turkey

Statements from the operations room regarding the struggle against the opposition forces have included harsh criticism of Turkey, which is perceived as a patron of these forces. It is not unlikely that Iran and the Syrian regime utilized the platform provided by the operations room to level even more severe criticism, which at times even verges on threats against Turkey, with which they conducted negotiations about resolving the issues in Syria in the framework of the Astana talks. Thus, in an interview that the Al-Safir Lebanese daily conducted with the commander of the operations room, which was published on December 8, 2016, he said that "the heads of government in Turkey are not trustworthy and their promises are worthless."[15]

On January 5, 2017, "a high-ranking security source in the operations room" claimed that Turkey had instructed Jabhat Al-Nusrah to prepare to perpetrate attacks in order to apply pressure on Russia at Astana. The source also reportedly maintained that there were senior Turkish officers in western Aleppo and Idlib and that there was coordination with senior members of Jabhat Al-Nusrah.[16] About two weeks later, in an interview with the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV channel, the "high-ranking security source in the operations room" repeated the allegations and warned "everyone who wants to sabotage the ceasefire – don't play with fire."[17]

On September 17, 2017, the operations room issued a statement which, for the first time, revealed its involvement in activities on the ground against opposition forces. The operations room announced the launch of the Al-Fajr-3 Campaign, writing that this was decided after the Al-Fajr-1 and Al-Fajr-2 campaigns culminated in the liberation of the Al-Dumayr area, which extends to the Jordanian border, and following the liberation of the Al-Basairi triangle which extends to the border with Iraq. The goal of the new campaign was the liberation of areas along the Syria-Iraq border. The statement also said that the liberation of the area was achieved with the help of efforts on the part of the Syrian forces and their allies.[18]

 

 

 

 

[4] Al-Safir (Lebanon), December 8, 2016.

[5] Alalam.ir, September 16, 2017.

[6] Youtube.com/Al Mayadeen, November 20, 2017; Youtube.com/Al Mayadeen, November 30, 2017.

[7] Raialyoum.com, September 16, 2017.

[8] Almayadeen.net, November 19, 2017.

[9] Syriahr.com, October 26, 2021.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 21, 2021.

[11] Almanar.com.lb, June 7, 2017.

[12] Moqawama.org, February 10, 2018.

[15] Al-Safir (Lebanon), December 8, 2016.

[16] Telegram.me/Hizballah, January 5, 2017.

[17] Almayadeen.net, January 15, 2017.

[18] Athrpress.com, September 17, 2017.

The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

Read More
MEMRI
2021 End-Of-Year Campaign