First Published: 2012-01-14

 

Head of Al Quds force leads Iran’s initiative to arm Syrian regime

 

US believes Iran is supplying munitions to aid Syria's bloody protest crackdown in initiative spearheaded by Tehran's revolutionary guard supremo.

 

Middle East Online

By Stephen Collinson – WASHINGTON

Possible successor to Ahmadinejad

The United States believes Iran is supplying munitions to aid Syria's bloody protest crackdown in an initiative spearheaded by Tehran's revolutionary guard supremo, senior US officials said Friday.

Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Al Quds force, was in the Syrian capital this month, one official said, in what Washington sees as the most concrete sign yet that Iranian aid to Syria includes military hardware.

"We are confident that he was received at the highest levels of the Syrian government, including by President Assad," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"We think this relates to Iranian support for the Syrian government's attempts to suppress its people."

The official said Washington has reason to believe that Iran is supplying security-related equipment "including munitions" to Syrian forces.

"The US government believes Iran has supplied Syria with munitions" for use in the military crackdown, he said.

The United States has long suspected that Iran has been aiding Syria's purge against protesters as Assad tries to cling to power and avoid the fate of other Arab dictators felled by the Arab Spring uprisings.

Another official said Soleimani's visit marks the strongest indication yet of direct cooperation between the allies amid a purge that the UN estimates has left more than 5,000 people dead since March.

The officials did not give further details of the information that has led them to conclude that Tehran has indeed provided security equipment and munitions to the Syrian armed forces.

The powerful Soleimani has been mentioned by some observers as a possible successor to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and has repeatedly been the target of US sanctions.

Washington last year accused him of links to an alleged plot by the Al Quds force to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million.

The latest revelations come with the United States locked in a tense standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program and as maritime tensions between the two states simmering in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping route.

Washington has warned Iran it will not tolerate any attempt to close the Strait, as Tehran becomes increasingly infuriated by the growing impact of US and international sanctions designed to deter its nuclear program.

The Revolutionary Guards maritime division, which handles military operations in the strait and the Gulf, is expected to hold maneuvres in the area soon.

Signs of direct cooperation between Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Syria came a week after Mahmud Suleiman Haj Hamad, a former official in Assad's regime, accused Iran and Iraq of financially aiding the Syrian crackdown.

He made the allegations at a press conference in Cairo after announcing his defection from the regime, according to an Al-Jazeera report.

Iran has also been standing firm with Syria after the Arab League suspended Damascus over the repression wracking the country and imposed fierce pressure on the Assad regime to accept a peace plan.

Tehran has been concerned about the possible collapse of Syria, its principal regional ally, a scenario that would leave it even more isolated in its own region as nuclear sanctions bite.

It has accused its traditional foes Israel and the United States of stirring up trouble in Syria.

In a televised speech lasting nearly two hours on Tuesday, Assad vowed to crush "terrorism" with an iron fist and accused outsiders of trying to destabilize his country.

That prompted opposition movements to accuse him of pushing Syria towards civil war and world powers to accuse him of trying to shift the blame for the 10 months of bloodletting in the protests against his regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the speech as "chilling" and the United States says Assad has long since lost political legitimacy after oppressing the hopes of Syrians for freedom and democracy.

 

Iraq’s peshmerga ‘break’ Mount Sinjar siege

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Tough times for oil-rich GCC

Obama concerned about Egypt mass trials

Tumbling oil prices cut budgets of Mideast arms exporters

Turkey acquits sociologist over 1998 explosion

EU foreign affairs head to visit Iraq

Turkey court remands Samanyolu TV chief in custody

IS threatens to kill Lebanese soldiers held hostage

Turkish media chiefs charged with terrorism

Iraq may delay payment of Kuwait war reparations

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman

From bikini to Jihad in Ceuta, Melilla

Tunisia votes Sunday in second round of presidential poll

Islamist militias launch air strike near key Libyan oil terminals

Egypt refers 312 Islamists to military courts

Turkey rejects EU criticism over media arrests

Kerry meets chief Palestinian negotiator

Saudi cleric sparks uproar for showing wife’s face

15,000 march against country’s ‘Islamisation’ in eastern Germany

Key oil producers face uncertain outlook in 2015

Gulf stock markets tumble

Australia mourns Sydney cafe siege victims

Hostages flee as police storm Sydney café

Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Syria PM in Iran for talks with key ally

22 Swiss jihadists fighting abroad

#illridewithyou: Australians stand in solidarity with Muslims

Sydney siege 'lone wolf' or IS-led attack?

EU support UN efforts for Aleppo ceasefire

Saudi policeman killed in Riyadh hostage-taking

Saudi king receives Jordan monarch

Palestinians push UN bid to end Israeli occupation