Russia has begun the process of withdrawing some of its troops in Syria to help bolster its forces in Ukraine, the Moscow Times reported.
According to the Friday report in the independent, Dutch-based paper, several military units have been relocated from bases across the country to three unnamed Mediterranean airports, from where they will be transferred to Ukraine.
The report also said that the now-abandoned bases have been transferred to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Damascus is a staunch ally of Moscow, which intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 by launching airstrikes to support Syrian President Bashas Assad’s struggling forces.
Russia’s intervention in Syria marked a turning point in the conflict.
It enabled pro-regime forces to wrest back lost territory in a series of victories against rebels and jihadists involving deadly bombardments and massive destruction.
More than 63,000 Russian military personnel have deployed to Syria, Moscow says.
The new development could be problematic for Israel, which has sought to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.
In an op-ed for Israel’s Channel 12 news, Middle East pundit Ehud Ya’ari warned that without Russian influence in Damascus and on the ground, Tehran could more easily push its units into Syria, as well as influence the Assad regime.
“Israel has no way of truly influencing the considerations of the Russian deployment in Syria,” Ya’ari said. “However, as they lower their military presence in this country, Iran’s growing grip in the region is a development to worry about. It is worth remembering that Russia, even when cooperating with Iran in Syria, has always sought to limit and shrink Iran’s foothold there and the depth of Iran’s infiltration of Assad’s army and security services.”
Jerusalem and Moscow have in recent years maintained a so-called deconfliction mechanism that works to prevent Israeli and Russian forces from clashing in Syria. Israel has waged a years-long campaign of airstrikes aimed at pro-Iranian fighters located there and at preventing the transfer of Iranian-supplied weaponry.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided criticizing Russia directly for invading Ukraine as Israel seeks to maintain its freedom of movement in the skies of neighboring Syria, which are dominated by Russian forces.
Early on in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, launched at the end of February, Israel sought to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv, preserving relations with both of its allies and offering to broker talks, while supplying Ukraine with humanitarian assistance.
However, as reports have emerged of Russian atrocities in Ukraine, Israel has shifted its tone and become more outspoken in its criticism.