Following repeated and explicit statements of support from Iran’s newly inaugurated President Hassan Rouhani, Iran is moving to dramatically deepen its activities on behalf of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime. The Wall Street Journal reports that Shiite recruits from across the Middle East are being indoctrinated to wage a sectarian war on behalf of the regime:
The busloads of Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Syria and other Arab states have been arriving at the Iranian base in recent weeks, under cover of darkness, for instruction in urban warfare and the teachings of Iran’s clerics, according to Iranian military figures and residents in the area. The fighters’ mission: Fortify the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni rebels, the U.S. and Israel.
Iran’s widening role in Syria has helped Mr. Assad climb back from near-defeat in less than a year. The role of Iran’s training camp for Shiite fighters hasn’t previously been disclosed.
The fighters “are told that the war in Syria is akin to [an] epic battle for Shiite Islam, and if they die they will be martyrs of the highest rank,” says an Iranian military officer briefed on the training camp, which is 15 miles outside Tehran and called Amir Al-Momenin, or Commander of the Faithful.
The Syrian conflict had long ago hardened into a Sunni-Shiite war, with propagandists on both sides describing it as such. Analyst Phillip Smyth noted back in May that Hezbollah fighters who were dying in Syria were announced as having been killed defending the Sayda Zaynab Shrine – a Damascus mosque revered by Shiites – regardless of where they were killed.
Iranian military officials have long been on the ground in Syria. According to the Journal Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani oversaw the development of the coordination between Iran and pro-Assad forces, and the Syrian army was subsequently able to retake the strategic city of Aleppo. According to one rebel commander quoted in the article, Gen. Soleimani has become the main political force in Syria.
In this video, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander denigrates Arabs and oulines Iran’s role in training fighters battling on behalf of the Assad regime: