Tehran is believed to be preparing to dispatch a substantial Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) special operations unit to Syria to tackle the separate rebel and ISIS advances closing in on the Assad regime, Western and Arab intelligence sources report. They say the Syrian army is already setting aside an area in northern Syria for the Iranian troops to take up position.
If this happens, debkafile’s military sources note that it would be the Revolutionary Guards first direct intervention in the nearly five-year Syrian war. Up until now, Tehran has carefully avoided putting Iranian boots on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. The only place where Iranian forces are directly engaged in battle is at Iraq’s main refinery town of Baiji, where small infantry and artillery units have been trying – without success thus far – to dislodge ISIS forces from the refinery complex.
In the other Syrian and Iraqi war arenas – and elsewhere – Tehran follows the practice of using local Shiite militias as surrogates to fight its wars, providing them with training and arms. The Guards have also brought Shiite militias over from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
That Tehran is about to change course to save Bashar Assad was indicated in a surprise statement Tuesday, June 2 by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, supreme commander of Iranian forces fighting outside the country. After urgent consultations in Damascus with President Assad and his military chiefs, the Iranian general said enigmatically that “major developments” are to be expected in Syria “in the next few days.” Another source quotes him more fully as saying: “In the next few days, the world will be pleasantly surprised [by the arrangements] we [the IRGC] working with Syrian military commanders are currently preparing.”
debkafile, which Sunday, May 31, exclusively disclosed Soleimani’s post-haste arrival in Damascus, now reports from its military sources that Hizballah military chiefs were summoned to Damascus to attend those consultations. On his way to the Syrian capital, those sources also reveal that the Iranian general stopped over at the Anbar warfront in western Iraq near the Syrian border.
The IRGC expeditionary force, according to Gulf sources, will have to initial objectives to recover Jisr al-Shughour in northwestern Syria and Palmyra. The first has been taken over by Syrian rebels of the Army of Conquest, a band of Sunni militias sponsored by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar; the second was captured by the Islamic State last month.
The recovery of the two cities and their return to Syrian government control would deflect the immediate threats posed by opposition and Islamist forces to the highways from Homs to Damascus and the Mediterranean port of Latakia. This, in turn, would relieve the Assad regime of much of the military pressure threatening its survival.