Iran began flying into Syria this week units of its paramilitary volunteer militia, known as Basij – “Mobilization of the Oppressed,” DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive military sources disclose. These thugs are trained in “urban warfare” tactics for crushing any sign of unrest in the main cities capable of jeopardizing the ayatollahs’ hold on power.
It was decided by the Syrian general staff and the Iranian command in Syria to post the incoming units in two troublesome sectors – southern Damascus and a cluster of 30 Shiite Syrian villages opposite the border of southern Lebanon. There, they are relieving the Hizballah forces safeguarding the villages against rebel attacks, releasing them for combat duty on the Syrian battlefields.
This is the first time Iranian military units have been placed in direct juxtaposition with Syrian rebel fighters.
Judging by the number of landings, our military and intelligence sources estimate that so far around 6,000-8,000 Iranian troops have arrived in Syria or are on the way.
The Basij deployment in Syria has three major strategic implications:
1. Iran has undertaken to fully shoulder the defense of the Assad regime in Damascus. This makes even more remote the already unrealistic prospect of a rebel takeover of Damascus, or parts thereof, in the foreseeable future.
2. Deploying the Basij units in Damascus frees up Syrian army units to continue their operations for expelling rebel forces from the southern Syrian regions of the Horan and the Syrian Golan. This campaign aims at widening the "southern corridor" already cut through between Damascus to the Daraa on the Jordanian border.
Basij on Syrian-Lebanese border are a hands-off signal for Israel
3. The presence of Iranian forces on the Syrian-Lebanese border has a second objective apart from protecting the Shiite villages: They provide military backup for Hizballah’s heartland in southern Lebanon against a potential Israeli attack, at a time when a large part of Hizballah’s strength is away fighting in Syria. Their presence is a warning signal to Israel that if southern Lebanon comes under attack, Basij units will cross over from Syria and fight alongside Hizballah.
Our military sources provide an additional disclosure in this regard:
The Basij presence has made it possible to detach a third Hizballah division, the Al Mahdi Brigade, for Syria. It was sighted crossing the border on the night of Tuesday, April 30.
The soldiers of this brigade carried heavy weapons – BM-21 rocket launchers and heavy mortars. They were seen heading towards the town of Al Qusayr, 35 kilometers south of Homs, to take on the battle sector against the rebels fighting to the north of the town.
Al Qusayr is also important because of its situation in mountainous terrain overlooking the Syrian border with Lebanon 15 kilometers to the southwest.
This is the first time that an entire Hizballah brigade moved out of Lebanon into Syria complete with all its battle gear. The Al Qods Brigade which entered earlier picked up their equipment on arrival from the Syrian army. With the new arrivals, Hizballah now fields a total of 7,500 troops in the Syrian war.
Assad’s army makes important gains
This week saw important gains (unreported in the West) for the Syria army, which is now massively buttressed by its foreign allies’ military assets and extra supplies.
The government army’s 4th and 14th Divisions managed to open up the highway from Damascus to Aleppo along its full length. After clearing the route of the rebel positions and footholds, which gave the highway the name of “death road,” Assad’s troops began moving in on important rebel strongholds in the northern province of Idlib near the Turkish border.
Government troops also drove rebel forces out of central Homs and assumed control of the town. Around Damascus, they chalked up major achievements, notably dislodging the rebels from their encirclement of the city’s airports including Damascus international airport and regaining control.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources also report that from Monday, April 29, Russian and Iranian airlifts into to Syria increased from two landings a day to six – four from Iran and two from Russia.
While flying in the Basij units, the Iranian transports are also carrying heavier Scud D surface-to-surface missiles.
As the US, Israel, Turkey and Jordan argue over what to do about Syria’s chemical weapons, the stepped-up influx of Iranian and Hizballah troop reinforcements backed by airlifted supplies of manpower and heavy weapons from Russia and Iran, have changed the face of the Syrian conflict. Today, Iranian and Hizballah troops are powerfully supporting the Syrian army’s fight to save the Assad regime from the rebellion.