On Sept. 9, video footage of what appears to be Iranian commanders working with Syrian troops was posted online by the Syrian Dawood Brigade, a rebel group that is fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Days later, Iranian media reported that both the commander and the filmmaker from the video had been killed.
The clips that were released by the rebels appear to be raw footage for a documentary by an Iranian filmmaker, who speaks Persian with his subjects. The filmmaker follows Iranians in military uniforms interacting with Syrian troops, speaking broken Arabic and even at one point handing out candy to children in the town.
While the video footage released by the rebels does not show Iranians engaged in direct combat, the main subject of the documentary (as far as the clips released are concerned), Haj Ismail Heydari, gives a fascinating first-hand account of his experiences in Syria and confirms what Iranian officials have admitted but never described in such detail.
In one subtitled video, Heydari explains to the interviewer that the fight in Syria is between “good and evil.” He also claims that his relationship with the Syrian soldiers is better than the relationship Syrian commanders have with them, and that one of his responsibilities is to teach the Syrian commanders how to treat the soldiers with more respect.
On Aug. 24, two weeks before the videos surfaced, hard-line Mashregh News published pictures of Heydari’s funeral. The only text that accompanied the pictures read: “Martyr Haj Ismail Heydari was martyred last week in a conflict with Jubhat al Nusra terrorists at Damascus’ Zeinab [shrine]. He was buried Thursday among a crowd of mourners in the city of Amol.” The rebels claim that they acquired the footage when they overran a base in Aleppo.
After the video surfaced, hard-line media outlets took note and even lamented that foreign media would show this footage, yet Iran’s own state-run media would not.
According to Raja News, the video was taken by documentary filmmaker Hadi Baghbani. Mashregh News conducted an extensive interview with filmmaker Seyed Ali Fatemi, who had traveled to parts of Syria with Baghbani. Fatemi says that Baghbani was on his second trip to Syria and confirms that they have traveled to Aleppo as well. One video clip released by the rebels shows a filmmaker (presumably Baghbani) with another Iranian soldier (not Heydari) taking heavy fire before the camera falls to the ground and goes black. Interestingly, published pictures reveal that hard-line cleric Alireza Panahian was one of the Iranian officials in attendance at Baghbani’s funeral.
The Raja article states that the video does not show anything that had not already been confirmed by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah) commander Mohammad Ali Jaffari, who had said that “Sepah’s Quds Force has a presence in Syria and Lebanon, and this does not mean a military presence.” He also said that he considers it an “honor to transfer their experiences to Syria, which is part of the ring of the resistance.” In the video interviews, Heydari makes similar claims about advising and sharing experiences with the Syrian army.
Raja says that while the video footage was shown by foreign media such as BBC Persian, “it did acquaint us one of the brave Iranian soldiers and commanders who devotedly, anonymously and of course courageously and victoriously defended the Shrine of Zeinab and the axis of resistance, but because of the media considerations, the people of Iran have been deprived of being acquainted with his grace.”
Image: poster from Raja News of Heydar’s funeral