The chief of staff of the Iranian military, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, arrived in Damascus on April 30 to assume direct command of the Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces fighting in Syria, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report. His arrival showed Iran has significantly stepped up its military involvement in Syria.
Sources close to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said May 1 in Tehran that the general arrived in Damascus “to personally supervise the battles and the borders that were determined.” The sources did not specify which battles he would command or who had set the borders. They also did not say whether the borders referred to those of the war raging in Syria, or the country’s sovereign borders.
According to debkafile’s sources in Moscow and Tehran, just as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country’s military command see the current offensive by Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces around Aleppo as the climax of the Russian military intervention, the Iranians see the battle for Aleppo as pivotal for the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, as well as Tehran’s standing in Damascus.
Tehran also believes that the battle around Syria’s largest city will play a major role in determining all of the country’s borders, not just its northern one.
Our sources report that there are sharp differences between Moscow and Tehran on this point. It seems that the main role of Maj. Gen. Firouzabadi will be to ensure that immediately after the capture of Aleppo, his country’s forces will focus their operations on other areas of Syria where Iran, not Russia, has strategic interests.
One example of such an area is southern Syria, which borders both Israel and Jordan.
In other words, Israel must be prepared for the possibility that the Iranian chief of staff will personally take charge of the deployment of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces along Syria’s border with the Golan Heights.
Until now, Israel’s government and military command had believed that it was possible to secure the northern border though understandings with Putin. But now, that assessment has been proven to be mistaken with the arrival of the Iranian general in Damascus, and Tehran’s announcement that Firouzabadi will deal with the issue of borders, among others.
debkafile’s military sources point out that another main reason for the dispatch of the chief of staff is the fact that Iran has sent large forces from elite units of its standing army to Syria during the last month. It is the first time in Iran’s modern history that its standing army forces have been sent to fight beyond the country’s borders.
Over the past few weeks, the arrival of Iran’s 65th Airborne Brigade of the Special Forces-NOHED brigade drew particular attention.
Our sources report that this brigade will serve as the spearhead of the Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah assault on rebel positions in Aleppo.
According to the understandings reached by the Russian and Iranian general staffs, there is a clear division of responsibility between the forces of the two sides in the campaign. The Russian air force and heavy artillery will strike the rebel bases and positions in and around the city, while the Iranians, Syrians and Hizballah advance on the ground. After those forces surround the rebels in Aleppo, they will launch an all-out attack.