JERUSALEM—Iranian officers who lead Shiite volunteers from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan have taken over the battle against rebels in southern Syria, within six miles of the Golan border, according to a reserve Israeli army general.
Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv, who led counter-terrorism efforts for the Israeli General Staff, wrote in Yediot Achronot Thursday that ten thousand volunteers have been flown in by Tehran to bolster the flagging efforts of the regular Syrian army and their Hezbollah allies from Lebanon in meeting an offensive by Sunni rebels pushing towards Damascus from near the Jordanian border.
"Iran is taking over the reins in Syria," said Ziv. Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stay close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the grounds that he needs protection, he said. "In fact, no military decision [in Syria] is made without [the IRGC]." He described Assad as "a puppet looking out at his lost land."
The presence of Iranian advisers in Syria and Lebanon in recent years is well known but Ziv writes that there is now an entirely new dimension with Iranian officers leading combat troops within six miles of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the Six Day War. There has thus far been no direct clash with Israeli troops, but an Iranian general and five other Iranian military personnel, as well as six Hezbollah militiamen, were killed when an Israeli aircraft attacked vehicles reconnoitering the Golan border in January.
Ziv said the Iranian-led forces were displacing Syrian troops who had been deployed opposite the Golan since the 1973 Yom Kippur War and who kept the Golan line the most peaceful of Israel’s borders with Arab states.
The general said the steady erosion of Assad’s regime since the civil war began four years ago has made him increasingly dependent on Iranian financial and military assistance. What is happening near the Golan border, wrote Ziv, constitutes a strategic threat to Israel no less than that of Iran’s nuclear program.
The IRGC no longer has confidence in the efficacy of the Hezbollah fighters who were supposed to bear the brunt of the fighting in southern Syria, wrote Ziv. They have taken control of the fighting, with the Shiite volunteers. There has been no mention of direct intervention of Iranian combat troops.
The diminution of American presence in the area, wrote Ziv, has enabled Iran to cultivate its ambitions as a regional power. "The U.S. has been attacking [the Islamic State] but it has totally ignored the changes to the balance of forces in the area. It has in fact given backing to the Iranian takeover of Damascus in return for a shaky nuclear arms deal," wrote the Israeli reserve general.
Iran is close to 1,000 miles from Israel and is separated from it by Iraq and Syria. Iran and Israel have never been at war with each other but have periodically engaged in clandestine operations against each other.