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Reuters: Iran and Russia Plotted Defense of Assad During Final Months Of Nuclear Talks

Russia and Iran decided in July to undertake joint military action to prop up Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, even while they sat on opposite sides of the table in nuclear negotiations, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The first step of the joint offensive was planned by the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, who reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was in Russia despite an international travel ban.

Major General Qassem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow was the first step in planning for a Russian military intervention that has reshaped the Syrian war and forged a new Iranian-Russian alliance in support of Assad. …

His Moscow meeting outlined the deteriorating situation in Syria, where rebel advances toward the coast were posing a danger to the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect, where Russia maintains its only Mediterranean naval base in Tartous.

“Soleimani put the map of Syria on the table. The Russians were very alarmed, and felt matters were in steep decline and that there were real dangers to the regime. The Iranians assured them there is still the possibility to reclaim the initiative,” a senior regional official said. “At that time, Soleimani played a role in assuring them that we haven’t lost all the cards.”

The current offensive against anti-Assad rebels—a combination of IRGC ground operations and Russian bombing raids—”underscores several months of planning between Assad’s two most important allies.”

Russian soldiers were seen fighting alongside Syrian army units last month, and the Syrian military had been observed using advanced Russian weapons.

Benjamin Weinthal and Emanuele Ottolenghi, respectively a research fellow and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reported in Politico last month that Iran was utilizing an internationally-sanctioned domestic airline to “ferry weapons and military personnel” across the region, possibly even delivering IRGC personnel to Syria in advance of the offensive.

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