WASHINGTON – An Iranian general made a major mistake by conceding Shiite Iran has military forces in Syria fighting to preserve the embattled government of Shiite Alawite President Bashar al-Assad.
Gen. Hossein Hamedani, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, commented in a speech that the Islamic republic is militarily involved in Syria.
The problem is Tehran has repeatedly denied that Iranian combat forces are fighting alongside Syrian troops in a three-year civil war in which more than 140,000 Syrians have been killed.
Until now, Iranian officials claimed that Tehran was providing only humanitarian, economic and technical help to Syria.
At a news conference in 2012, however, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, had acknowledged Iran had a military presence in Syria but was only providing non-military assistance.
“A number of members of the Quds Force (IRGC) are present in Syria, but this does not constitute a military presence,” Jafari said at the time.
No longer at risk of collapse
Iran’s Fars News Agency originally had published Hamedani’s comments but soon removed them.
Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Hamedani was quoted as saying that the Syrian regime was no longer “at the risk of collapse.”
“Today we fight in Syria for interests such as the Islamic Revolution,” Hamedani was quoted as saying. “Our defense is to the extent of the Sacred Defense.”
“Sacred Defense” is a term Iranian officials use to refer to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Hamedani reportedly had made his comments at a recent administrative council meeting in the province of Hamedan. The province’s capital, Hamadan, is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to the Assyrians in 1100 B.C.
In referring to their shared war experiences, Hamedani said that “in this conflict, without any expectations, the experiences were transferred and training was provided to the Syrians.
“We provided training that included the separation of armed forces from the people and reduced the number of casualties,” the IRGC commander said.
His comments are supported by reports to WND from sources inside Damascus who said that young fighters in civilian clothes would quietly come to hotels but would then disperse to accompany Syrian military personnel.
They officially referred to themselves as “pilgrims,” but these sources remarked that none carried the Quran. They were bearded, spoke Farsi and were physically fit.
Their numbers also have been reinforced by the influx of Iranian-backed Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon, which has prompted increasing attacks by the Sunni foreign fighters inside the country.
Hamedani pointed out that in addition to the Hezbollah from Lebanon, Iran had established a “second Hezbollah” in Syria.
“The prime minister of Israel had said, at the time when the U.S. was ready to attack Syria, come, weaken Hezbollah and cut the hand of Iran,” Hamedani said. “But Iran has formed a second Hezbollah in Syria.”
Before Fars pulled Hamedani’s comments, the IRGC general said that the Syrian regime is no longer “at risk of collapse.”
The assessment is generally shared by U.S. intelligence officials and regional analysts who believe that Assad’s military forces have the battlefield advantage. However, his forces control critical chokepoints throughout the country although al-Nusra and other Islamist foreign fighters control sections, including outside the Syrian capital of Damascus.
In underscoring Assad’s ability to survive, Hamedani pointed to a combination of Iran’s alliance with Syria and the creation of Hezbollah inside Syria as constituting the “axis of resistance.”
“Without these,” he said, “the region would be easy for the U.S. (to influence).”