The Times reports this morning that Iran is urgently sending troops and arms to bolster Syrian President Assad’s forces, in an attempt to defend the areas of the country which remain under his control.
Assad is still thought to exercise control in heavily Alawite areas such as Latakia, but is facing the duel threat of al-Qaeda linked rebels who are making a strong push in Idlib and ISIS, which recently captured the historic city of Palmyra. Apparently, the commander of the elite al-Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, General Qassem Suleimani, recently visited Latakia and urged Assad’s troops to defend the people “against a band of evil beasts.”
Suleimani has apparently sent fresh missiles and artillery along with soldiers to boost Assad’s forces. The article says that the prime Iranian concern is not necessarily the preservation of Assad’s power, but the safety of the passage through Syria, which allows Tehran to supply Hezbollah with weapons in neighbouring Lebanon. Apparently, Iran expects a de facto division of Syria and is investing resources to allow Assad to maintain the areas he already controls, including Latakia, Homs and the capital Damascus. A source is quoted saying that the focus for Assad’s forces is “defending only those parts of the country that it can, and leave the rest for the rebels and Isis to fight it out.”
Such an assessment would appear to tally with an IDF evaluation reported last week. A senior IDF official briefed the Israeli media and said that, “President Assad’s forces in Syria are in disarray.” He suggested that they are increasingly reliant on Hezbollah which itself is suffering heavy losses, with as many as 2,000 fighters killed since the start of the Syrian Civil War. The official noted that Israel has observed a recent movement of Hezbollah troops from south Lebanon bordering Israel to Syria, which “points to their distress” and significant losses in Syria.