By now, anyone who cares knows that Iran is supporting Bashar al-Assad’s military in Syria. But just how much is Iran devoting to keeping Assad afloat? AEI’s Critical Threats team has uncovered evidence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is diverting active commanders from its Ground Forces to that conflict.
Most Iranian covert military and terrorist operations abroad are conducted by the IRGC Quds Force, led by Major General Qassem Suleimani. The IRGC Ground Forces are responsible for defending Iran in the event of a ground invasion and for maintaining internal security. That Iran is deploying commanders from its Ground Forces units to supplement the Quds Force, particularly when Iran’s own domestic stability is under threat, indicates that the Iranian leadership is serious enough about Assad to degrade its own domestic forces.
Other than the Islamic Republic’s commitment to a dictator who has killed an estimated 60,000, what does the diversion of the Ground Forces mean? Remember, the Quds Force is the tip of the spear in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism; what the Ground Forces bring are training and experience conducting internal security and conventional or counter-insurgent operations. In other words, Iran is upping the ante as Assad teeters on his throne. Additionally, several of the Ground Forces personnel deployed to Syria hail from provincial units that face tribal and ethnic unrest (West Azerbaijan and Fars), more evidence that the Quds Force has tapped specific elements of the Ground Forces for their unique experience in combating internal uprisings.
What have we learned from this rare insight into the Iranian leadership’s strategic thinking? They’re more than a little worried Assad’s days are numbered. Let’s hope they’re right.