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memri
September 2, 2019 No.
8256

News.ru: Russia's Influence In Syria Is Called Into Question; Why Did Syria's 'Tiger Forces' Change Their Image?

Experts continue to discuss the renaming of the elite units of the Syrian intelligence of the Air Force Tiger Forces, which are considered to be the pillar of the Russian military command in the Arab Republic. The Syrian Government reorganized the unit, renaming it from Tiger Forces to Division 25 Special Mission Forces. Now the special forces are under the Syrian Army's central command. However, Maj. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan will remain the commanding officer.[1]Al-Hassan has been considered close to Russia and has met with Russia's Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. He has been the recipient of numerous Russian military awards. [2]

The Russian media oulet News.ru cited an analysis by Russian Middle East expert Kirill Semenov, Head of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development, on the rebranding of the Tiger Forces. According to Semenov the current rebranding may reflect two opposing directions: either it is a step towards even greater independence for the Tiger Forces, which have become the Division 25 Special Mission Forces and can serve as the corner stone for the Pro-Russian component of the Syrian Arab army, alternatively it is a process of subordinating this unit to the Syrian Arab army and depriving it of the ability to conduct separate operations. Semenov stated that if the Tiger Forces will henceforth be prevented from conducting independent military operations, then this would signal a waning of Russian influence in Syria.

Below is the article published in News.ru:[3]


(Source: Facebook.com/tigerforces01)


(Source: Facebook.com/tigerforces01)


(Source: Facebook.com/tigerforces01)

If The Tiger Forces Won't Be Allowed Any Longer To Carry Out Independent Operations, This Would Mean That The Russian Influence In Syria Is Decreasing

"It is reported that despite the change in format, Major General al-Hassan and other officers will continue to serve within the unit. Pro-government sources interpret this step unambiguously - the semi-official 'Tiger Forces' received a special status. Now the 25th unit is in the assault process near the key city of al-Taman (in Idlib province – the last one that is controlled by the opponents of the official Damascus [regime]). If it manages to take control of the town, then most likely the unit will be transferred to another place - in the Al-Gab valley - for deployment near the Republican Guard. The latter is currently trying to recapture the northern part of this rural area. Earlier, the Tiger Forces sustained significant casualties in battles for the provinces of Hama and Idlib. There was evidence that the 4th division, under the command of Maher Assad, in which a number of pro-Iranian formations were distributed, was in talks with the Russian military in order to increase its participation in the combat, which ultimately happened.

"The Saudi media considers it important that in the context of the 'Tiger Forces' rebranding, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decided to dissolve the military wing of the Al-Bustan association, which was in the area of responsibility of his cousin Rami Mahluf. It is reported that such measures were taken after a decision was made (Arab observers invariably associate this with Russia) to limit the expansion of ongoing recruitment to units sponsored by the association. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the association is likely to continue its work in the charity sphere and retain its staff and leadership. It is expected that the administration of the President of Syria and the Ministry of Social Affairs will oversee its activities. The association itself, in a statement posted on social networks, claims that the Al-Bustan charitable foundation has been and remains a part of Syrian society.

"The expert community believes that the change in the format of 'Tiger Forces' may indicate two conflicting trends, which, however, fit into the restructuring of the Syrian government army. Most likely, this is about depriving the Air Force intelligence of such an enforcement component as the Tiger Force unit, which weakens this independent structure, and as a resul, the special unit turns into a division of the Syrian Arab army. These remain ground forces, albeit elite ones,' said Kirill Semenov, Head of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development.

"'The connection between the Air Force intelligence and the 'Tiger Forces' is not completely clear. In this regard, it cannot be ruled out that at some stage the subordination of the 'Tigers' to the Air Force intelligence became very conditional. Then the 'transformation' into the Division 25 Special Mission Forces may be just a consolidation of the actual position of al-Hassan’s formations. Air Force intelligence was more focused on Iran, and the 'Tiger Forces' mostly worked with Russia. Options may vary. For example, an attempt to deprive the 'Tiger Force' of independence, including the ability to conduct autonomous operations bypassing the command of the Syrian Arab army,' stated Kirill Semenov.

"The expert considers another option as well: 'Perhaps this is the result of operations in the Hama province, where autonomous formations that are not part of the army, but operate under Russian auspices (the 'Tiger Forces', 5th assault corps, ISIS Hunters) could not achieve the desired result without involving the Syrian Arab army, associated with Maher Assad, which acts as competitor to the 'Tigers'. The analyst, however, notes: 'Quite a lot says in favor of the fact that the involvement of the Maher Assad forces was not decisive and did not impact the operation, in contrast to the termination of Turkish assistance to the rebels until Khan Sheikun was blockaded'.

"Semenov concludes that the current rebranding may reflect two opposing perspectives: either it is a step towards even greater independence of the Tiger Forces, which have become the Division 25 Special Mission Forces around which the pro-Russian component of the Syrian Arab army can already be built, or vice versa - the process of subordinating this unit to Syrian Arab army and depriving it of the ability to conduct separate operations. The latter option would speak of a decrease in Russian influence, states the analyst."

 


[2] Uawire.org, June 25, 2019.

[3] News.ru, August 30, 2019. The article was written by Igor Yanvarev.