BEIRUT – A top pro-Assad daily in Lebanon has reported that Iran has deployed troops into northwest Syria in preparation for a counterattack in Idlib.
“During the last [few] days, and through a joint Syrian-Iranian-Iraqi decision, more than 20,000 Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese fighters have poured into the Idlib area,” As-Safir reported in a dramatic article published Tuesday.
The report said that the new troops had been sent to the regime’s front lines in the northern Hama province village of Jourin and areas in the southern part of the Idlib province, which rebels seized last week following months of sweeping advances.
As-Safir mentioned Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani’s visit to the area, saying that the famed general was “accompanied by units that took part in fighting in Iraq, and in the recapturing of [the country’s] Salaheddine [province].”
According to As-Safir, “the mobilization in northern Syria is unprecedented [with regard to] Iranian and Iraqi presence in Syria since the outbreak of the war on [the country] four years ago.”
“A mobilization of this size registers as a break from the undeclared Iranian-Turkish understanding, that direct and exposed confrontation between the two countries in Syria is to be avoided.”
The pro-Syrian daily also cited Arab sources as saying that “the Iranians, who hesitated after the fall of Idlib, in preparing for a counterattack, and underestimated Turkey’s plans in northern Syria, now see the Syrian front as a priority, in the open confrontation from Iraq to [the Lebanese-Syrian] Qalamoun [border region] and Yemen.”
The report in As-Safir comes just days after Soleimani’s surprise visit to the Jourin front, after which the Qods Force commander vowed that upcoming developments in Syria would soon “surprise” the world, Al-Quds al-Arabi reported.
“The world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days,” the state Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) quoted Soleimani as saying.
A number of pro-regime outlets reported on Soleimani’s trip over the weekend, including pro-Hezbollah Mulhak news, which said the Iranian military commander met with the Syrian army’s chief of staff as well as top field commanders and Hezbollah officials during his secret visit.
“An agreement was reached [during the meetings] that will be translated on the [battlefield],” the outlet claimed.
Meanwhile, a defected National Defense Force militiaman told Al-Quds al-Arabi that Soleimani’s trip aimed to formalize the “entry of Iranian officers to supervise and aid the battles in coastal Syria for the first time since the outbreak of Syrian uprising.”
“Prior aid was limited to only logistical aid,” the unnamed source said.
Soleimani’s promise of upcoming surprises was made as an influential Iranian militant group thought to be close to the country’s rulers has called for tens of thousands of infantrymen to be sent to Syria, according to a report by Saudi-owned news channel Al-Arabiya.
“Iran must send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently,” Al-Arabiya reported, citing a study on Iran’s management of the war in Syria conducted by Ansar e-Hezbollah.
According to the cited study, the mission of the 50,000 soldiers would be to ensure Syria’s coastal region is not cut off from Damascus.
“Iran must preserve the vital corridor [connecting] Damascus to Latakia, Tartous and the Lebanese border.”
“[Any] delay by Iran in [implementing] this pre-emptive action will cause the fall of Damascus airport, which in turn [means] the severing of the essential communication and supply line Iran [uses] to assist the Syrian regime.”
Ansar e-Hezbollah, which was formally created in 1992, serves as a plain-clothed attack guard used by the Iranian government to target opponents of the clerical ruling system.
Although not an official part of Iran’s security services, the paramilitary group receives state training and is thought to be close to top circles of the country’s authorities.