The recent arrival of Russian military personnel to the Syrian port-city of Tartous has allowed for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the civilian-led “National Defense Forces” (NDF) to concentrate their military units to a number of different fronts outside of the Syrian Government stronghold of Latakia.
With much of the SAA and NDF units deployed to more volatile fronts, the Russian Marines and Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) have relieved their positions by installing military checkpoints inside the cities of Slunfeh (east Latakia Governorate), Masyaf (east Tartous Governorate) and Ras Al-Bassit (Latakia coastal city).
According to a senior officer in the Syrian Arab Army, at least 2,800 soldiers from the Special Forces have been redeployed from their base at Slunfeh; this allowed for the Russian Marines and Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen to build fortifications around this mountainous city that overlooks the Al-Ghaab Plains.
The Russian Marines and IRG replacing the Syrian Army in Slunfeh is imperative for two reasons:
- The Islamist rebels would have to go through Slunfeh if they wanted to cross into Latakia from the Al-Ghaab Plains – meaning, they will have to go through the Russian and Iranian defenses.
- Their presence in east Latakia is a clear warning to the Islamist rebels that Latakia is off limits for their military endeavors.
Ras Al-Bassit is another important site; however, not because it is in any-kind of danger, but rather, due to the fact its the 4th Mechanized Division’s headquarters in northern Syria (main HQ is in Yafour, Damascus).
The Russian Marines and IRG stationed at Ras Al-Bassit will likely travel back and forth to the predominately Armenian city of Kassab on the Syrian-Turkish border – another warning to the Islamist rebels that this area off limits.
Finally, there is Masyaf in east Tartous; this city is the National Defense Forces’ headquarters, as it houses the largest number of militiamen (est. 12,000-16,000) in Syria.
East of Masyaf are the predominately Christian cities of Al-Sqaylabiyah and Mhardeh; these two cities have been under attack by the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra”; however, the civilian militiamen inside these two cities were able to fight off every attack.
Once again, the Russians and Iranians form this protectorate around Masyaf to deter any Islamist rebels from entering the Tartous Governorate.
Whether or not the Islamist rebels harbor these military aspirations is unknown; but they have been given a fair warning by the Iranians and Russians to not expand west.