Syria and its allies came closer than ever to taking Aleppo on Friday, Dec. 2, when they captured the Tariq al-Bab district to gain control of 60 percent of the rebel-held eastern part of the city.
Drawing on the lessons of this success, the winning forces have begun building a military outfit modeled on the format of the victorious coalition. It is designated the “Fifth Corps” of the Syrian army, but debkafile’s military and intelligence sources can identity the new unit as the framework for an international Shiite brigade or foreign legion.
It is the brainchild of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian Mid East operations, who is in Iraq at present, supervising the Shiite militias on the Mosul front. However, his officers are overseeing its construction of the new military legion. It is composed of the remnants of the Syrian army’s First and Second Corps, which took a bad beating in the five years of conflict, the Hizballah expeditionary force in Syria and the Shiite militias which Tehran imported from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight for Bashar Assad.
The new framework aims to field 50,000 to 70,000 fighting men.
Its command structure is already taking shape in a form that is new for the Syrian army and indeed any other fighting force in the region. Syrian, Hizballah and foreign Shiite officers will make up this command, but not direct their own forces, only mixed units composed of Iranian, Syrian, Shiite and Hizballah servicemen.
It will be the first Shiite army or foreign legion ever seen in the Middle East.
An oblique reference to the novel force came from a Hizballah source this week who said: “The Fifth Corps is an important turning-point for the ties between allied forces within the same axis – Syria, Iran, Russia and Hizballah.”
Russia? debkafile’s sources have heard no hint of the Russians joining the new Shiite legion. But Hizballah has been spreading reports in the past fortnight about its deepening ties with Russian officers, mainly on the Aleppo front, and their supposed appreciation of the Lebanese Shiites’ fighting prowess.
The Syrian high command has meanwhile moved forward on the new scheme with a decision this week to send the entire next class of military recruits to the new Fifth Corps.
The new Shiite foreign legion or international brigade presents a major headache for Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It provides a cover for Iran and Hizballah to sneak troops right up to their borders. Whenever this happened in the past, Israel and Jordan pushed back hard. But this will be more difficult once the Fifth Corps is set up as an integral part of the Syrian army.
Western and Arab observers following the Syrian war believe that, as soon as they finish off the rebels in Aleppo, the new foreign legion’s forces will turn south to repeat the exercise there with Russian support.
The Russian bombardment of rebel concentrations outside the southern towns of Jasim and Daraa Sunday, Nov. 27, was seen a message from Moscow to Jerusalem and Amman that southern Syria is now in line for the next battle.