Iran is escalating its threat to respond forcefully against outside interference in the Syrian conflict, despite already having 15,000 of its own troops inside Syria to help put down the rebellion that threatens the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Mashregh News, a media outlet run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported in March that the Islamic republic’s armed forces have established a “joint war room” with both Syria and the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The trio aim to provide a coordinated response to any American aggression against Syria or Iran, which Mashregh News said would include counterattacking with missiles aimed at Israel and American assets in the region.
According to the Fars News Agency, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a warning recently during his recent meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The Islamic Republic will defend Syria,” FNA reported that message read, “because of its support for the resistance front against the Zionist regime [Israel], and is vehemently opposed to any intervention by foreign forces in Syrian internal affairs.”
Even as a shaky truce began to take hold in Syria over the weekend, on Saturday the United Nations Security Council approved sending 30 military advisers to oversee the cease-fire. That truce had already begun to unravel by Monday as Syrian forces shelled the cities of Homs and Idlib.
Late last week the Iranian media outlet Resalat revealed some details of recent negotiations between former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iranian leaders in Tehran.
Iran’s demands, Resalat reported, included the recognition that “any change and/or reform [in Syria] can only be recognized under Assad’s direction.”
“Assad is Iran’s red line,” the report said, “and Iran will never allow his fall under any circumstances.”
Iranian negotiators, according to Resalat, reiterated that “any action against Syria will result in instability and destruction not only in the region but beyond.”
And “foreign interference or help for the armed rebels in Syria,” they demanded, “must stop immediately.”
In May 2011 Khamenei declared the Syrian protesters “God’s enemies,” ordering the Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese Hezbollah to “fiercely combat” the protesters and help Assad put down the uprising which has taken over 10,000 lives so far.
The same sentiment was published in a recent commentary published by Sobhe Sadegh, the media outlet belonging to the Revolutionary Guards, calling the Syrian protesters “rabble-rousers” who are “puppets of Zionists and the United States.”
Chanting slogans against Iran and Hezbollah by the “radicals in Syria will be their last stand,” the Guards warned.
Some 15,000 of Iran’s elite forces, led by Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, are in Syria to help the Assad regime suppress the uprising and protect the regime itself.
Despite the strength of reporting from inside Iran, not everyone agrees that Khamenei is committed to preserving an Assad-led Syria.
Emails released by Wikileaks in February revealed information gathered by Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at the global intelligence company Stratfor. Those emails showed both Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already concluded Assad’s regime could not be rescued. Stratfor concluded that they recognized the best outcome for Tehran would be a Damascus coup resulting in a new regime that would continue its relations with Iran.
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the author of the award winning book ”A Time to Betray.” He teaches at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy (JCITA) and is a member of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.