Latest developments in southern Syria (Daraa)

Ahmad Rahhal

The second pillar of the “Syrian regime” in southern Syria is Daraa. What had taken place in 2018 and the undisclosed agreement orchestrated by Russia, the US, Israel and Jordan resounds up to date. Each party to the bargain had its share. However, the most beneficiaries were the “Assad regime”, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran. That, however, was at the expense of the Syrian people and specifically Daraa which was the cradle of the “Syrian revolution”.  

All in all that resulted in the exit of Daraa from the context of the revolution under the “settlement agreement”, after its people and revolutionaries were abandoned. Every evil species of weapons of destruction and murder machines (artillery, rockets and planes) were not spared by Russia and the “Syrian regime”. Hundreds of civilians were displaced. They headed towards the border with Jordan which was closed even at the face of the injured and wounded. That was another burden on Daraa, the cradle of revolution, to accept such humiliating agreements with the condition however militias of regime not enter villages and towns, just setting up security checkpoints.   

The settlement agreement was met by Russian understanding and pledges made to Israel and Jordan to distance Iranian militias from the Jordanian border with Syria and from the disengagement lines in occupied Golan some 40/80 km. After that, Jordan re-opened the Nassib border crossing that incurs a billion USDs per year as a transit for Syrian and Lebanese goods heading towards the Gulf States.

However, the contradiction was that Iranian-led militias exited from the south returning under the darkness wearing the uniform of the Fourth Division led by Brigadier–General Maher al-Assad (brother of Bashar al-Assad) that conducts under the Quds Force, while the Nassib border crossing, customs points and points of border guards with Jordan were controlled by militias affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah.

Instead of distancing Iranian militias from the occupied Golan tens of kilometers, according to pledges made by Russia, however, the IRGC and posts held by the Hezbollah militias locate some few hundreds of meters in some areas such as in the town of Hadar and its outskirts and others close to the United Nations mission in the Golan.  

Former US Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn told me in a special meeting that “The agreement with Russia regarding southern Syria was catastrophic. The most disastrous matter lies in the fact that we cannot correct that mistake.”

Today, southern Syria is like a volcano that could erupt at any moment. Sniping, abduction and assassinations are common occurrences there. According to Martyrs Documentation Office in the governorate, there are 30/60 assassinations per month in Daraa as an average. Compared to the period prior to the settlement agreements, there could be more than a thousand deaths from all ages. These assassinations vary from firing, IEDs and mines in addition to assassinations that occur few days after of abduction. Abductions are carried out by three parties:  

There are assassinations carried out by security branches of the “Assad regime” and Iranian militias and Hezbollah against military and civil leading figures of the revolutions. Those run under “settlement groups” with the regime. However, the regime and its allies do not trust anyone that held arms against them. They well know that such reconciliations do not reflect the actual reality of its signatories. They were actually compelled to do that. At any available chances they would revolt again. For this reason they are liquidated in advance.

There are counter-assassinations carried out by the Daraa revolutionaries against those accomplices to the revolution or those allied and collaborated with the Assad, Iranian or Russian intelligence services. They were liquidated. In addition to leading figures of the “Assad regime” whose hands are gravel stained with the blood of the Syrian people. On August 4, Salameh Qaddah, Secretary of the Baath Party Office in the city of Hirak was assassinated. He was fired by unknown men in the city of Hirak in eastern Daraa.

There is a third party that carries out such assassinations. They are drug merchants and those responsible to protect, spread and run it. These are dependents on the Assad intelligence or that of Iran or Hezbollah. They are engaged in struggles and battles that result in the assassination of some for personal or beneficiary ends to control solely such a trade. 

While villages and towns in the countryside of Daraa are still engaged in the fight for freedom that is represented in continued targeting of the Assad militias and intelligence to fully control the governorate by deploying their forces in the villages and towns. There occur battles and conflicts and abductions and even murders. Usually, Russia interferes to solve such differences. However, it has recently become clear that how weak the Russians are after Iranians and their militias control the south. There are 33 military posts in Daraa, 22 ones in Quneitra, 12 in Suwayda, according to the Jusoor Centre for Studies).  The Iranian presence in the south increased after the 2018 agreement was put into oblivion in 2021.  

There still remains the Eighth Brigade led by Ahmad al-Oudeh. He is affiliated militarily and financially with the Russian Khmeimim Air Base and structurally is attached to the Russian-backed Five Legion. It is the balance point in the south. Though dependent on the Russians he usually protects civilians against harassments of the Iranian militias and the “Assad regime” and Hezbollah. From time to time military clashes erupt between them and the Eighth Brigade.     


Generally, it has not yet emerged that the riots in the south is attributed absolutely to the “Assad regime-Iran-Hezbollah trio. The goal is clear which is to have the south settled in favor of Assad to lead the battles in Idlib and in eastern Syria. On August 5, heavy military reinforcements arrived in the Daraa al-Baladi Stadium that is turned into a headquarters by the Assad army leadership in the governorate. But though the balance of powers between the “Assad regime” and its allies on one hand and between the civilians in Daraa and Suwayda on the other is disproportionate, however, the pulse of the revolution is strong enough to terrify the regime in the south. In spite of all security and military pressure exerted by the Russians in southern Syria, and in spite of the abandonment by all parties that used to support it, southern Syria is still defiant to the control of Assad forces to return to the reality prior to 2011.  

Besides, the recent outcry made by the King of Jordan Abdullah II that smuggling and channeling weapons and drugs into Jordan come from Syria, and the confirmation made by the security services in Jordan that these weapons and drugs are supported and covered by Syrian military and intelligence forces made the outcry echoed in Washington.

All of this agitated Israel which got upset with the Russians after all pledges made to distance such militias from Golan failed to the ground. This, added to new developments in eastern Mediterranean, ushers in new hope of a new reality in the south.  

There has been circulation of a safe zone to be imposed by Jordan in southern Syria echoes the one asked by Turkey in the north. Some claim the Military Operation Center (MOC) could return and new military formations may be formed to return the situation in the south to the reality prior to 2018. Some say there could be cooperation between Jordan and the Free Army (SNA). Media outlets quoted a former leader in the Free Syrian Army of a meeting held in an Arab country adding there are radical changes to take place that could dislodge the regime from southern Syria again. However, these are unconfirmed reports that usually are denied by the active powers.