Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Did Iran send 15,000 troops into Syria?

From Ha'aretz:
A top Iranian military official is activily aiding the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in suppressing popular unrest throughout the country, a top member of the National Syrian Council said on Monday.

According to the Syrian official, Kassam Salimani, commander of the Quds Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard special forces unit, has arrived in Syria recently and has taken up a spot in the war room which manages army maneuvers against opposition forces.

The war room is also reportedly populated by Assad himself, as well as his brother Maher, brother-in-law Assaf Shaukat and cousin Rami Makhlouf, with the Syrian chief of staff's authority reportedly restricted and divided up between other military commanders.

The Quds Force includes 15,000 elite soldiers who operated, among other locations, in Iraq during the war, and the specialty of which is engaging in unconventional warfare on foreign soil. Among other duties, the Quds Force is in charge of traning and funding Hezbollah.
Turkey's Sabah, however, reports that all 15,000 Quds Force troops are being sent to Syria.

Al-Arabiya picked up on it:

Media sources said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard recently sent 15,000 troops of its elite Qods Force, armed to the teeth, to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing a popular revolt spread throughout the country to force him to step aside and make way for the establishment of a democratic, pluralistic system, instead of one-party system which ruled Syria for more than four decades.
I don't know how reliable Sabah is, and I wonder whether it simply misunderstood Ha'aretz' description of the Qods Forces. That story was datelined a half hour after Ha'aretz'.

Too often I see that reporters playing the children's game "Telephone." This might be one of those cases.

I think if 15,000 Iranian troops were in Syria, the opposition would be noticing it and publicizing it directly.

The Al Arabiya story does quote another source saying that 65 Iranian military specialists were sent to Syria along with four planeloads of weapons and ammunition hidden in normal civilian aircraft traffic. That seems more likely.

(h/t Yoel)