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In the past two weeks, in response to the June 28, 2021 U.S. attack on positions of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias on the Syria-Iraq border, there have been several attacks on two bases housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria: the Omar oil field base and the Conoco gas field base. The attacks were reportedly carried out using rockets or drones, and so far no element has claimed responsibility for them. It should be noted that, in the recent years, the Syrian regime has employed what it calls "popular resistance" against the U.S. forces in eastern and northern Syria. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad stated on numerous occasions that such resistance is the only way to drive the U.S. forces out of Syria and that the Syrian regime encourages it. However, the frequency of the recent attacks suggest that they were carried out by Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria or by Syrian elements operated by these militias, in coordination with the Syrian regime.
Until the June 28 U.S. attack on their positions, the Iran-backed militias responded to such attacks by targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, not Syria. If these militias are indeed responsible for the recent attacks in eastern Syria, this activity may be intended to convey to the Americans that a new phase has begun in the confrontation between the U.S. forces and the Iranian proxies in the region, in which U.S. troops in Syria will be targeted as well.
On July 14, 2021, Syrian journalist Ayham Mare'i wrote in the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar that, until recently, the Syrian regime and its allies preferred to employ "popular resistance" against the U.S. in order to avoid confronting it directly. But now, a new phase has begun, and violence against the U.S. forces in Syria us likely to escalate, with attacks not only on bases but also on U.S. patrols or supply trucks, "based on the model of resistance in Iraq."
Mare'i's article is in line with reports in the last two weeks on Syrian opposition websites, that the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias have brought more rockets and launchers into areas they control on the western bank of the Euphrates, across from areas on the eastern bank controlled by the U.S. troops and by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), apparently for both offensive and defensive objectives.
The following are translated excerpts from the report by Ayham Mare'iin the Al-Akhbar daily threatening an escalation in attacks on the U.S. forces in eastern Syria:
Mare'i writes: "The five [recent] operations against the bases of the Washington-led international coalition in Syria were the beginning of a new phase, meant to increase the pressure on the U.S. to change its policy in Syrian and end the occupation of extensive areas east of the Euphrates." Mare'i explains that, in light of America's military might, the Syrian regime and its allies previously preferred to employ popular resistance against it while avoiding direct military confrontation: "The Syrian state and its allies are fully aware of America's military might and the difficulty of launching an open, all out confrontation against it in Syria. That is why they adopted the idea of launching popular resistance that can defeat the occupation and force it to withdraw by means of relentless attacks. In the recent months the regime urged the people in the areas east of the Euphrates to organize popular action against the occupier by impeding U.S. patrols on the ground, throwing stones at them and protesting against them."
Mare'i notes that these efforts failed, however, for "there was no significant change on the ground." Therefore, "there was a significant development, and the resistance assumed a new form," namely the recent attacks. He speculated that "the coming period is likely to see further escalation, in the form of direct attacks on U.S. patrols or even on trucks carrying vehicles, ammunition and food over the border, modeled on the resistance in Iraq."
Mare'i explains that "naturally, Damascus and its allies have not claimed responsibility for the last attacks, so as to avoid giving Washington a reason to retaliate. [They prefer] to say that these incidents, even if they are launched from government-controlled areas, are the work of unofficial popular groups. Damascus can reasonably justify these limited operations [by saying that] they are expressions of popular resistance to the direct U.S. occupation, and to America's economic pressure on the Syrian people and the organized and systematic theft of its oil and flour…
"[However], the similarity of the attacks on the U.S. bases in Syria and those in Iraq gives us a clear idea of what is happening, and [shows] that the forces of the resistance axis are acting in concert to create a new equation on the ground that will undermine the U.S. presence in the region, in [both] Syria and Iraq…"
 For example, according to a July 7 report on the Sada Al-Sharqieh Facebook page, affiliated with the Syrian opposition, one of the attacks on the Omar oil field base was carried out using a drone operated by an Iranian team on the western bank of the Euphrates (Facebook.com/SadaAlSharqieh, July 7, 2021).
 See e.g., JTTM reports: Pro-Syrian Regime Group Releases Video Threatening U.S. Base In Al-Tanf; Urges Popular Resistance To U.S. Presence In Syria, September 23, 2020;
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8994, Syrian Regime Continues To Encourage Popular Tribal Resistance Against U.S.; Assad: This Is The Only Way To Force The Americans To Leave, October 28, 2020.
 See e.g., Syriahr.com, July 9, 2021; naharmedia.net, July 4, 2021.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 14, 2021.