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Is Russia exploiting Iranian weakness in east Syria?

Iranian forces are concerned about losing their influence and their members in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province in favor of the formations supported by Russia.
TOPSHOT - A picture taken during a press tour provided by the Russian Armed Forces on September 15, 2017 shows Russian soldiers standing guard in a central street in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor, as local children pose nearby. / AFP PHOTO / France2 / Dominique DERDA        (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE DERDA/AFP via Getty Images)
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ALEPPO, Syria — Iranian forces and their allied militias in Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria have recently carried out new redeployment and repositioning operations to limit their losses in the event of Israeli airstrikes against their sites in the area. Their action included moving to new military sites and headquarters, hiding weapons and removing flags from the roofs of military sites and barracks as well as relying more on local members to guard military sites. Some armed formations also partially withdrew from their sites, while the families of members were transferred to other areas.

The biggest challenge facing the Iranian forces now is to maintain their cohesion in Deir ez-Zor and its countryside, as the violent suspected Israeli bombing that targeted their sites on Jan. 13 has pushed many members to flee their headquarters and military sites. This prompted the Iranian forces to intensify patrols in search of defectors - primarily Syrian nationals who had been working with the Iranian-backed groups - and arrest local members who did not join the military barracks after the airstrikes ended. 

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