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Iran withdrew top Revolutionary Guard commanders from Syria days before the United States launched strikes against Iran-linked targets in the Arab state, to prevent elite forces from do not suffer further losses.
Tehran made the decision to withdraw the commanders after US President Joe Biden accused an Iranian-backed militant group of being responsible for the January 28 drone attack that killed three US soldiers at a base in Jordanian-Syrian border and pledged to respond, according to an Iranian official. and two other persons informed of the matter.
The guards officers had left Syria by the time Washington launched airstrikes five days later, the sources said, adding that it was a sign that Tehran did not want to be drawn into direct conflict with the United States. United.
The United States said it directly targeted Revolutionary Guard facilities in Syria for the first time since the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas in October, which sparked hostilities in the region. It is the largest U.S. military response to attacks on its forces by Iran-backed militants in the past four months.
The Iranian official said the decision to withdraw the commanders reflected a “change in tactics,” since nine guard officers had already been killed by Israeli strikes since October. An Iranian analyst affiliated with the Islamic regime said the guards were removed to “prevent an escalation” with the United States.
“Iran was concerned about the possible need for retaliation if more commanders were killed. The United States has also made clear through indirect channels that it does not seek conflict with Iran, a concern shared by Iran,” the analyst said. “Once relative calm returns, these forces will return to Syria. »
Tehran was also keen to ease tensions as it prepared for important parliamentary elections on March 1, the Iranian official added.
U.S. officials gave no specific casualty details after launching their retaliatory strikes, but said no Iranians appeared to have been killed in the attack. The U.S. military said it hit 85 targets at seven installations in Syria and Iraq associated with the Revolutionary Guards.
The Iraqi and Syrian governments said dozens of people were killed in the strikes, including civilians.
Iranian-backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria have launched more than 160 rocket and drone attacks against U.S. troops in the region, while Hezbollah has exchanged almost daily fire with Israeli forces. other side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Houthi rebels in Yemen have also targeted U.S. merchant ships and warships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Israel has also launched multiple airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Revolutionary Guard and militants in Syria, and assassinated a Hamas leader and other members of the Palestinian group in Beirut. Israel rarely confirms or denies such strikes, but has intensified its attacks in Syria since the start of the war with Hamas.
Iran last month launched a missile attack on what it called an Israeli “spy center” in Erbil, northern Iraq, in apparent retaliation for Israeli strikes. But Tehran has insisted it is not seeking direct conflict with the United States or Israel, Iranian officials and analysts say.
Tehran’s priority is to protect the security of the Islamic republic, while projecting its influence and hostility to the Israeli offensive in Gaza through the actions of the regional groups it supports, collectively dubbed the “Axis of Resistance.” “.
A source close to Hezbollah said the deadly strike on the U.S. base also caused guards to remain more discreet in Iraq and Lebanon and deploy increased security near Iran-linked facilities in those countries.
Iran deployed forces to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad after a 2011 popular uprising turned into civil war. Hezbollah, Tehran’s most powerful proxy force, also sent fighters to Syria during the civil war, and more than a dozen of its forces have been killed by Israeli strikes since October, a source close to the group said Lebanese.
Hezbollah has also withdrawn some senior commanders in Iraq, where they liaise with Iran-backed militias in the country, and has become cautious about the movements of its fighters in southern Lebanon, the source added.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington