Iran will reportedly send a contingent of some 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops to Syria to aid the regime of Bashar Assad, which is already bolstered by Lebanese fighters from the Hezbollah terror group.
According a report Sunday in Britain’s The Independent, the decision to deploy the Iranian forces was taken before Friday’s elections in Iran, which saw Hasan Rowhani win the presidency with 50.7 percent of the vote.
Shiite Iran and its proxy movement Hezbollah have vowed to help the Assad regime defeat a largely Sunni rebellion aided by the West and Sunni Arab states. They have also threatened to open a new front with Israel in the Golan Heights.
News of Iran’s decision comes just days after the US announced it would aid the Syrian rebels by sending weapons, following the disclosure that Washington had conclusive evidence that Assad’s government had crossed Washington’s “red line,” using chemical weapons against opposition forces trying to overthrow him.
On Friday, Western diplomats in Turkey revealed that the US was also considering imposing a no-fly zone that could help to monitor weapons shipments, according to Reuters. Russia has come out strongly against any such consideration, calling it a potential violation of international law.
In May, Israeli Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi said Iran was bolstering Assad with a 50,000-strong force of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters.
Last month, the State Department confirmed that Iranian fighters were in Syria, based on accounts by members of the Free Syrian Army in the country.
Iran denied the US claims, calling them a provocation.
“The true enemies of Syria make up these accusations to provoke the people of this country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said in a statement quoted by Iranian state television.
Hezbollah troops have been openly participating in fighting in the country.
The Lebanon-based terror group recently helped the regime pry the key city of Qusair from the rebels in a harshly fought battle earlier in June.
According to a report in the UK-based Sunday Times, Hezbollah fighters and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are training Syrian troops to spearhead an offensive against rebel-held areas in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and economic heart.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Friday to keep fighting in Syria “wherever needed” and said his group has made a “calculated” decision to defend the Syrian regime no matter the consequences.