Iran's Revolutionary Guards are in Syria: Commander

Published Sunday, September 16, 2012

Updated 3:59pm Members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are in Syria providing non-military assistance and Iran may get involved militarily if Syria comes under attack, its commander said Sunday.

The statement is the first official acknowledgement from a senior military commander that Iran has a military presence on the ground in Syria where an uprising has left tens of thousands dead since it began 18 months ago.

Western countries and Syrian opposition groups have accused Iran of providing weapons and expertise to Syrian armed forces and have suspected an Iranian military presence inside the country. Iran has denied this.

The Islamic Republic has backed President Bashar al-Assad since the crisis began and regards his rule as a key part of its axis of resistance against Israel and Sunni Arab states.

"A number of members of the Qods Force are present in Syria but this does not constitute a military presence," commander-in-chief of the IRGC Mohammad Ali Jafari said at a news conference on Sunday, Iranian news agency ISNA reported.

Qods is an IRGC unit set up to export Iran's ideology. It has been accused of plotting attacks inside Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Jafari did not indicate how many members were in Syria but said they were providing "intellectual and advisory help."

"The IRGC is giving intellectual help and even financial assistance but there is no military presence," he said.

He also said that Iran would change its policy and offer military backing to Assad if Syria came under attack.

"I say specifically that if Syria came under military attack, Iran would also give military support but it ... totally depends on the circumstances," he said.

Iranian officials have said Tehran has supplied medical and humanitarian relief to Damascus but have denied all allegations of military involvement.

NATO sources have also said they were providing military and political support to Syria rebels. Most NATO activities are concentrated in the Turkey-Syria border.

US officials this month accused Iraq of facilitating the transfer of weapons to Syria by opening its airspace to Iranian aircraft. Baghdad has denied the accusation.

Analysts say that losing its key Syrian ally would weaken the Islamic Republic's ability to threaten Israel through the Syrian-backed Shi'ite resistance movement Hezbollah.

Jafari dismissed Israel's threats of attack on Iran, saying Israel was having trouble persuading the United States to back its actions.

"Our answer to Israel is clear. In the face of such actions by the Zionist regime, nothing of Israel would remain," he said.

Israel is currently the only nuclear-armed country in the region, prompting analysts to accuse it of employing double standards.

He said any Israeli attack on Iran would also trigger retaliatory action on US bases in the region and that trade via the Strait of Hormuz would be disrupted.

An attack on Iran would also call into question Iran's commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said, comments that will cause concern among Western diplomats who want to find a peaceful resolution to Iran's nuclear program and avoid military consequences.

"If international organizations cannot stop Israel, Iran will not see itself as committed to its obligations. Of course this does not mean that we will go in the direction of a nuclear bomb," Jafari said.

Three rounds of talks earlier this year between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain – have so far failed to reach agreement on Iran's nuclear activities which the US believes are targeted at developing a weapons capability.

The West is demanding that Tehran halts all high-grade enrichment, close its Fordo nuclear facility and ship out all stocks of high-grade uranium.

Tehran maintains its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Russia and some smaller allies support the claim by saying no evidence exists of Iranian plans to develop nuclear weapons.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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