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December 3, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1040

Despite Denials By Iranian Regime, Statements By Majlis Member And Reports In Iran Indicate Involvement Of Iranian Troops In Syria Fighting

December 3, 2013 | By Yossi Mansharof*
Syria, Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1040

Recently, the Iranian media has published numerous reports about Iran's extensive military involvement in fighting for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, including reports on funerals of Iranian troops killed there. Nevertheless, the Iranian regime is sticking to its story that it is not involved in any way in the fighting, and rejecting Arab and Western countries' accusations that it is doing so.[1] The Arab countries' position was reflected in statements by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, whose country is Iran's leading critic on this issue, during a November 4, 2013 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, where he demanded that Iran withdraw both Iranian and Hizbullah forces from Syria.[2]

Tehran is also claiming that footage recently released by foreign media outlets showing Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) forces fighting in Syria was faked.[3]

Despite its claims that it is not involved militarily in Syria, Tehran is taking credit for the Assad regime's fighting capabilities against the rebels. Thus, for example, Reza Taqvi, headquarters director for the Central Council of Friday Prayer Leaders in the city of Jiroft in eastern Iran, said on August 20, 2013: "[Supreme] Leader [Khamenei], one of the great shapers of [world] history, is guiding [the operations] in southern Lebanon, and by virtue of his guidance, Gaza has raised its head and Syria has opposed the infidels."[4].

This paper will review the reports in Iran showing its extensive military involvement in the fighting in Syria.

Majlis Member: Iranian Forces Are Behind Syrian Army's Victories

As early as 2012, senior IRGC officials in Iran were actively fighting in Syria; a photo of the grave of IRGC leader Mohammad Tork, slain in Damascus battles, was published in the Arab media.[5] In addition, on November 2, 2013, Majlis National Security Council member Javad Karimi Qoddousi declared, "Hundreds of Iranian brigades are in Syria," adding that "when you hear the news of Syrian army victories from any Syrian commander, [know that] Iranian forces are behind the scenes there."[6]

IRGC public relations director Ramazan Sharif denied this, and said that "the media in Iran must show greater precision and sensitivity in publishing this kind of news so that they will not aid the foreign media's psychological warfare." He also reiterated Tehran's position that "as emphasized numerous times, Iran has no brigades in Syria; it has only advisors who help that country's defenders with their experience."[7]

It should be noted that Qoddousi's statements were first published by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which supports Khamenei's main political rival Hashemi Rafsanjani, but that several days later Qoddousi denied the ISNA report.[8]

Iranian Media Coverage Of Funerals Of Iranian Troops Killed In Syria

In a November 26 interview with the Iranian news agency Fars, Majlis National Security Council member Esmail Kowsari denied foreign media reports about Iranian forces' participation in the fighting in Syria. He said: "Iran is absolutely not sending troops to Syria. Had we sent many forces there, we would have martyrs and wounded, and they would have to return. So where are they? Why aren't we seeing [them here in Iran]?"[9]

Despite this statement, Iranian media in recent months have published numerous reports about IRGC and Basij troops being killed in fighting in Syria, and of their funerals being attended by senior IRGC officials.

Mehr News Agency: Gen. Mohammad Jamali Paqale Killed In Fighting In Syria

On November 4, 2013, the Iranian news agency Mehr reported on the death of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) veteran Gen. Mohammad Jamali Paqale in the fighting in Syria.[10]


Gen. Paqale (image: Mehrnews.com, November 4, 2013)

Senior IRGC Official Esmaeil Heidari "Killed In Battle Against The Terrorist Jabhat Al-Nusra"

On August 24, 2013, the Mashreq website, which is close to Iranian security circles, reported the death of IRGC general Esmaeil Heidari, "killed in battle against circles of the terrorist Jabhat Al-Nusra in Damascus." The website added photos from his funeral, showing IRGC members in attendance.[11]


Paqale's funeral (images: Mashreghnews.ir, August 24, 2013)

IRGC Soldier Mohammad Hossein Atri Killed By "Mercenaries Of The Zionist Regime"

On June 7, 2013, it was reported that the funeral of IRGC soldier Mohammad Hossein Atri, who was killed defending the shrine of Zainab in Syria by "mercenaries of the Zionist regime," would be held the next day in the city of Reshet, in northern Iran.[12]


Atri's funeral (images: Diyareban.ir, June 8, 2013)

Basij Senior Official Mehdi Moussavi

The Fars news agency reported on July 7, 2013 that senior Iranian officials, including from the IRGC, had attended a ceremony held at Ahwaz airport in southern Iran upon the arrival of the coffin of Mehdi Moussavi. [13]

An Iranian website noted that Moussavi was the Basij deputy commander in Ahwaz and that he had been killed in Syria.[14]


Mehdi Moussavi (image: Khouzestan.isna.ir, July 8, 2013)


Moussavi's funeral in Ahwaz (images: Khouzestan.isna.ir, July 8, 2013)

IRGC Soldier Amir Kazem-Zadeh

On June 9, 2013 it was reported in Iran that the IRGC was inviting the public to attend the funeral in of Amir Kazem-Zadeh, an IRGC soldier who was killed in an encounter with terrorists.[15] On August 6, the daily Javan, that is close to the IRGC, reported that Kazem-Zadeh had been killed in Syria in defense of Zainab's shrine.[16]


Kazem Zadeh's funeral in the city of Pakdasht (images: Varamin.sajed.ir, Mashreghnews.ir, June 9, 2013)

IRGC Soldier Mohsen Heidari and Basij Activist Mohammad Hossein Moradi

On August 21, 2013, the death of IRGC soldier Mohsen Heidari in the Syrian battles was reported. The notice urged the public to participate in the funeral that would take place in his hometown, the central Iranian city of Khomeini-Shahr, on the next day. [17] On the same day it was also reported that Basij activist Mohammad Hossein Moradi was killed the previous day in the battle against "the infidel terrorists, devotees of Zionism, in defense of Zainab's shrine."[18]


Funeral notice for IRGC soldier Mohsen Heidari (image: Ghalamkade.ir, August 21, 2013)


Moradi killed in defense of Zainab's shrine (image: Defapress.ir, November 21, 2013)

*Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] In late June 2013, then-foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi denied the claim by Saudi Foreign Minister Sa'ud Al-Faisal that Iran was militarily involved in Syria. Tabnak (Iran), June 28, 2013. On August 17, 2013, Iran's ambassador to Syria Mohammad-Reza Rauf-Sheibani denied the claim by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari that Iranian arms shipments to Syria via Iraq had slackened but had not ceased, saying: "Given Syria's military capability, it does not require armed assistance or the dispatch of forces to it. ISNA (Iran), August 17, 2013.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 4, 2013.

[3] See statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham. Farsnews.com, September 17, 2013; Alef.ir, November 1, 2013.

[4] August 20, 2013.

[5] See Farsnews.com, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.916, "Struggle Between Forces Within Lebanon Is Reflected In Their Involvement In Syria," January 3, 2013.

[6] ISNA (Iran), November 3, 2013.

[7]Farsnews.com, November 4, 2013.

[8] J-karimi.ir, November 5, 2013.

[9] Farsnews.com, November 26, 2013.

[10] Mehrnews.com, November, 4, 2013.

[11] Mashreghnews.ir, August 24, 2013.

[12] 8dey.com, June 7, 2013.

[13] Farsnews.com, July 7, 2013.

[14] Besme-rabbe-shohada.mihanblog.com, July 9, 2013.

[15] Mashreghnews.ir, June 9, 2013.

[16] Javan (Iran), August 6, 2013.

[17] Ghalamkade.ir, August 21, 2013.

[18] Defapress.ir, November 21, 2013.

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