The Iranians keep pushing Quds Force troops into Syria and supplying their proxy forces with arms, ammunition, and missiles… and someone, supposedly Israel, keeps hitting them hard with airstrikes.

According to reports coming out of Syria, at least six Iranian-led militia members were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike on Saturday night. The strike hit military positions in al-Bukamal, a disputed area that has been a frequent target. The area, where several Iranian-led militias are stationed, has been used by Tehran as a weapons storage conduit along the Iraqi border. It is part of what Tehran characterizes as its “land corridor” to the Mediterranean.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that four Syrian nationals were among the dead and that the strike “target[ed] positions of regime forces and Iranian militias in the village of Al-Abbas in the countryside of Al-Bukamal city, east of Deir ez-Zor.”

This latest airstrike was conducted just after the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani had — according to the Iranian news agency, Tasnim — traveled to al-Bukamal to visit troops. 

The Iranians quickly deleted the report by Tasnim, but photographs of Ghaani were published and shared online. He was making his first trip to the war-torn country since his predecessor Qassem Soleimani was killed in a drone strike attributed to the U.S. in January. Ghaani gave a speech accusing Israel and the United States of creating ISIS and described them as “two criminal regimes whose conspiracies have not yet ended.” He added that Iran would continue to fight the “Zionist regime.”

Israel rarely comments on news reports on airstrikes. Yet, it has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian forces as it has made it clear that it will not accept Iranian troops or bases close to its borders. This is also part of Israel’s campaign of “war-between-wars” aimed at preventing the transfer of advanced missile systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to its proxy forces.

Tehran is bringing in advanced missile technology into Syria. It seeks to spread out the assembly of its missiles over several different and smaller sites to make it more difficult for intelligence analysts to find and target them.

During the past several months, the airstrikes have killed dozens of Iranian and proxy forces and destroyed an untold amount of missiles and advanced weapons. As a result, many intelligence analysts believe that Iran has also significantly reduced the number of cargo flights bringing missiles into Syria.

But that is being disputed. In a report published by Israel Hayom, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, MG Amos Yadlin, warned that contrary to certain assessments the Iranians were not withdrawing their forces from Syria.

“The extensive ‎attacks in Syria (last week) show that the assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish,” Yadlin said.

“An attack near Sweida shows that Iran is broadening its presence in the sensitive area of the ‎Mountain of the Druze, as well. This area includes the area to which the Russians committed that Iran and Hezbollah ‎would have no access.”

The Iranians have an extensive presence in Syria, having taken advantage of the ongoing civil war. According to a 2018 Foreign Policy report, Tehran has 11 bases around the country for its armed forces, another nine bases for its proxy militia forces in southern Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Ezzor, and to these numbers should be added the 15 Hezbollah bases. According to Foreign Policy, Iran has spent over $30 billion and lost over 2,000 troops in Syria. Both of those numbers have no doubt risen dramatically since then. 

The Israelis have an unspoken agreement with Russia that they will not attack Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad unless they fire on their aircraft, which is one reason why the advanced Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile sites have not been used.