Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari holds a press conference in Tehran on September 16, 2012. Jafari said members of his elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, are present in Syria and Lebanon but only to provide 'counsel.' (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
HATAY, Turkey — The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Sunday the elite force have troops on the ground in Syria providing “non-military” assistance and warned Iran might defend Syria if attacked from abroad.
Syrian opposition forces and Western leaders have long accused Iran of providing weapons and support to the Assad regime. While admitting to supplying medical and humanitarian relief, Iran has denied any military involvement, until now.
"The IRGC is giving intellectual help and even financial assistance but there is no military presence,” said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, leader of Iran’s Islamic Military Guards Corps, in a rare public press conference in Tehran, as reported by local media."I say specifically that if Syria came under military attack, Iran would also give military support but that totally depends on the circumstances.”
In Aleppo, opposition fighters have long accused Iran of providing ground troops, in particular trained snipers, to suppress the uprising in a battle that has claimed over 27,000 lives.
Mohammed Yusef of the Noor Den al-Zenke battalion who were key fighters in the battle in Salah al-Deen’s infamous street 15, said his group found the bodies of around 20 Iranian fighters after they were killed in a bomb blast.
The group said the appearance, particularly clothing and documents in Persian found on the bodies, confirmed their identities. The group also claimed to have heard Persian being spoken between government snipers over short range radio frequencies in the Salah al-Deen district, however to their knowledge no Iranian prisoners had been captured in the area.
Aleppo FSA leader Abu Mohammed, who requested his real name be withheld to protect his family, also possessed Persian documents he claimed his men had found on the body of a government sniper in the district of Saif al-Dawla.
“I believe most of the fighters are from the Syrian army but we have evidence that snipers have been brought in from Iran and the Ukraine,” Abu Mohammed said, adding that to his knowledge no Iranian prisoners have been captured alive until now.
A recent campaign to attack civil airports in both Aleppo and Damascus was announced by FSA leaders last week. According to FSA communications manager Mohammed Noor, these airports have been used for airstrikes against opposition forces and civilians, as well as in the transportation of both weapons and troops from Iran.
On September 4, The New York Times reported that Iranian weapons shipments were being sent to Damascus via Iraqi airspace.
“Military experts say that the flights have enabled Iran to provide supplies to the Syrian government despite the efforts Syrian rebels have made to seize several border crossings where Iranian aid has been trucked in,” the report read.
In his speech, General Jafari also addressed threats from Israel to take military action if Iran continues it’s controversial nuclear program.
"Our response to Israel is clear: I think nothing will remain of Israel (should it attack Iran). Given Israel's small land area and its vulnerability to a massive volume of Iran's missiles, I don't think any spot in Israel will remain safe," he said.
The military leader went on to detail attacks against US bases throughout the Gulf if the USA were to back Israel in attacks on Iran’s nuclear plants.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, despite accusations of nuclear warfare development from the USA and Israel.