Iran commands a 25,000-man army fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the head of Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committees.
Avi Dichter, who formerly served as Israel’s domestic intelligence chief, warned visiting Swiss parliamentary members that the massive army is purposely targeting the Syrian rebel opposition, as opposed to the Islamic State.
“This is a foreign legion of some 25,000 militants, most of whom have come from Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Dichter told the delegation Wednesday, as reported by Reuters. “They are fighting in Syria only against the rebels and not against ISIS.”
Dichter did not disclose his sources, but he does receive regular intelligence briefings in his role.
Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict is as substantial as Russia’s, albeit much more covert. In lieu of massive bombing campaigns, Iran has recruited a large army comprised of mostly Afghan refugees.
The Hazara community is a small Shia Muslim sect in Afghanistan’s predominantly Sunni population. ISIS and Taliban attacks against the Hazaras forced many to flee to Iran, which also practices Shia Islam. Instead of welcoming the Hazaras, Iran converted them into an army, known as the Fatemiyoun division.
Typically, the Qods Force, a branch within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is responsible for foreign cover operations. Iran’s government recognized at the start of the Syrian conflict that a war in Syria would likely be unpopular. The Hazaras served as a convenient proxy.
Iran also utilizes Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist militias as a proxy for Assad. The Iran-Hezbollah relationship goes back decades, and the terrorist group is far better suited for counter-insurgency operations in Syria than the more conventional Iranian forces.
“The Iranians enlisted Hezbollah … to fight in Syria because the Iranian army is better suited to fight as an army against another army, while the Hezbollah militants are adept at fighting against terror groups,” said Dichter.
Dichter noted approximately 1,600 Hezbollah fighters have been killed fighting in Syria. The terrorist group is an arch-enemy of Israel, but that does not mean he is happy to see them dying on the battlefield.
“The fighting had made [Hezbollah] a better fighting force and more adept in conventional military warfare,” said Dichter.
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