Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has leapt into the Syrian battle arena, undertaking the task of transforming the Alawite Shabbiha militia, which has carried the brunt of Bashar Assad’s brutal suppression of the Syrian opposition for 18 months, into a new corps, retrained and reorganized on the model of the elite Al Qods Brigade.
Al Qods is the IRGC’s arm of clandestine and terrorist operations in Iran’s foreign arenas.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report exclusively that when the Shabbiha is slapped into its new military shape, Bashar Assad will have at his disposal an extra 50-60,000 professional Alawite soldiers under arms – the nucleus of a Syrian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Our sources also reveal that Tehran has promised the Syrian outfit weaponry on a par with the Al Qods arsenal. So, unless he is overthrown in the interim, the Syrian ruler and Iranian government will command the biggest special operations force in the Middle East.
For this project, a massive Iranian airlift of personnel and weapons is running daily from IRGC air bases in Iran into Syria. Most of the planes land at Damascus military airfield; some in other parts of Syria. They are carrying large numbers of IRGC and al Qods military officers and instructors, as well as enough arms to distribute to the Shabbiha combatants during their training and after they go out on field operations.
Our military sources disclose that by mid-week, the number of Iranian military personnel present in Syria had swelled to 2,200. They arrived with the commander of Tehran’s Syrian enterprise, Gen. Ibrahim Hamadani, one of the deputies of Al Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
His Syrian opposite number is Izzat Hassan, head of the Shabbiha.
All US efforts, including personal intercession by President Barack Obama, have failed to dissuade Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from allowing the Iranian military air corridor to Syria take a short cut through Iraqi air space. Maliki has refused to listen.
Tehran’s willingness in these tense times to hazard the withdrawal of thousands of crack officers, commanders and weapons from combat duty in Iran attests to two conclusions reached by Iranian strategists: