The battle on May 6 in the village of Khan Touman, located southwest of Aleppo near Route 5, the main highway leading to Damascus, will go down in the annals of the Syrian war as the biggest defeat suffered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hizballah, as well as the battle that changed the face of the war.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that an Iranian force consisting of IRGC troops and Hizballah was ambushed by fighters from the Jaysh al Fath organization, part of the Nusra Front.
Until this battle took place, Iranian and Hizballah commanders in Syria did not know that the rebels had received a shipment of MILAN antitank missiles provided by Turkey and funded by Saudi Arabia.
The encounter with the advanced weapon system brought the IRGC and Hizballah to rout.
The Iranians admitted that 17 of their fighters fell in the battle, including 13 from the IRGC’s “Karbala” Division that is usually based in Iran, and 22 were wounded. Among the dead were two Iranian brigadier generals. At least ten IRGC troops were taken prisoner by the rebels. Five or seven Iranian troops were executed immediately, and an unknown number were taken from the area to an undisclosed location.
Hizballah claimed that none of its troops were killed or taken prisoner. However, that statement was actually an attempt to hide that at least 15 of its fighters were killed. According to intelligence sources that monitored the battle, Hizballah’s death toll was even higher.
The defeat was a major shock to the Iranian and Hizballah hierarchies In Tehran and Beirut, and officials vowed that revenge would be coming soon.
The immediate result of the shock was the appointment of Gen. Mohsen Rezaei, commander of the IRGC 26 years ago in the 1980s, who retired years ago and was a candidate in several presidential elections.
debkafile’s sources report that Rezaei is one of the only IRGC commanders to have visited many times in the West, mainly to participate in international conferences, and has spoken freely with Western military and intelligence officers on the situation in Iran and the Middle East.
It is hard to believe that he will succeed in turning the clock back for Iran and Hizballah in Syria. Rezaei’s appointment indicates confusion or panic in the Iranian hierarchy that does not know how to respond to the defeat.
In addition, it is still not clear whether Rezaei will replace Gen. Qassem Soleimani as commander of Iran’s forces in Syria, or be subordinate to him.
debkafile’s military sources point out that bringing Rezaei to Syria does not resolve Iran and Hizballah’s main military problem, as the battle in Khan Touman showed. If the rebels continue to receive advanced weapons like antitank and antiaircraft missiles, they will become superior to the three military forces fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad, namely Iran’s standing army and IRGC troops, the Syrian army and Hizballah.
In other words, neither the Iranians nor Hizballah can win the war for Assad.
Seven days after the battle, the commander of Hizballah’s forces in Syria, Mustafa Bader Al-din, was killed by a ground-to-ground missile strike near the Damascus international airport. Later claims by various sources that he was killed in battle at Khan Touman were actually attempts to conceal the two biggest military blows suffered by the Iranians and Hizballah in Syria