Iran signaled that it was training commandos and snipers to send to Syria, days after Russia announced it was pulling most of its troops out of the country to allow a diplomatic process to take hold.
Iran, which said it would also send the troops to Iraq, characterized them as “military advisers.”
General Ali Arasteh, deputy chief liaison of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force, told reporters in Tehran that the first group was undergoing preparation and may be sent soon, according to the semi-official Fars news website on Wednesday.
“At some point we might decide to use our commandos and snipers as military advisers in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
The Tasnim news site, regarded as close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported Wednesday that the first contingent of “rapid reaction” commandos and snipers had attended a ceremony to mark the end of a two-month intensive course training with an Iranian-made sniper rifle.
Iran has been backing Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war, providing troops, training, logistical support and cash.
Support from Russia and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has also been key to helping Assad maintain power during a civil war that has stretched on for five years, but this week the Kremlin announced it would pull much of its force out of Syria.
On Wednesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow’s retreat could leave a vacuum filled by Iran and Hezbollah, both sworn to Israel’s destruction.
““We want Iran and Hezbollah not to emerge strengthened from this entire process,” Rivlin told reporters he would tell Putin at the meeting. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger to the entire world, but Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.”
Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy group, denied reports Wednesday that it was also pulling out of the country.
“False messages have been disseminated about the partial withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters” from Syria, a Hezbollah official told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Last week, General Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said his force would continue operating outside Iran’s borders.
The Quds force is responsible for overseas military and clandestine operations.