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.

 

Warring Syrians set for first face-to-face at Astana

Turkey moves closer to expanding Erdogan powers

IS demolishes more monuments in recaptured Palmyra

Bodies of firemen recovered from Tehran tower

Police, ruling party hit by attacks in Istanbul

Bomb kills 4 in refugee camp near Syrian border with Jordan

Egypt says political solution 'only way' for Libya ahead of talks

Turkey concedes including Assad in Syria talks

Netanyahu congratulates ‘friend’ Trump in tweet

Israel denounces Belgian plan to interrogate ex-minister

Denmark grants soldiers permission to fight IS in Syria

Car bomb near Benghazi mosque wounds 12

UN calls IS destruction of Palmyra relics ‘war crime’

Armed settlers rescued from angry Palestinian villagers

Petition filed for Israeli court to return body of Bedouin

29 Yemen rebels killed by Saudi-led air strikes

Iran losing hope of saving trapped firefighters

Algeria’s Islamist parties unite ahead of April elections

British worker dies on Qatar 2022 World Cup site

Search continues for trapped Iran firefighters

More than 40 jihadists killed in north Syria air strikes

Trump to be sworn in as 45th US president

Trump to retain envoy to anti-IS coalition

More than 20 firefighters feared dead in Tehran building collapse

Explosions in Gaza target Fatah member

UN expert tells Saudi to end ban on women driving

Desalination plant opens in Gaza to tackle water crisis

Syria’s Assad hopes rebels disarm after Astana talks

UN says 400,000 Syrian child refugees in Turkey not in school

Libya PM skips Davos to focus on electricity crisis

Greece, Cyprus insist peace deal must include Turkish withdrawal

Mistura to lead UN delegation at Astana Syria talks

Turkey slams French satire song about Istanbul attack

Saudi minister says kingdom to become ‘softer’ after reforms

Bahrain lifts ban on electronic Al-Wasat newspaper

Arab Israelis strike in protest over house demolitions

Iran sees Syria talks as opportunity to gain influence

Kuwait upholds sentence for three royals for insulting judges

Tunisia facing mounting calls against jail-for-joint law

Iran's oldest high-rise building on fire collapses

IMF says Egypt on track for next aid tranche

Bahrain police disperse Shiite protesters

Key Syria rebel group opts out of Astana peace talks

Moroccan Sufi ‘living master’ dies at 95

France says Iraqi jihadist among 2015 stadium bombers