In a recent speech, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaffari talked about Iran’s involvement in Syria in more blunt terms than many other Iranian officials have used. He also said that Iran only received a minimum of concessions in the nuclear deal and must not give up any more, and criticized the foreign minister for saying that the United States could “wipe out Iran’s entire defense system with just one bomb.”
In his speech at Imam Sadegh University, where many IRGC students graduate, Jaffari said, “We will do whatever is necessary to save the Syrian government.” He continued, “We have also stated this before, that we have special forces transferring experience and training who are doing advisory work, and this is open,” adding that this was at “the request of the official government.”
In September, video surfaced of an Iranian commander who had given an interview to an Iranian filmmaker about Iran’s involvement in Syria, mostly under the direction of the IRGC’s Quds Force division. The commander, Haj Ismail Haydari, talked about his experience training fighters from regional countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. While Iranian deaths are usually officially attributed to defending the Shrine of Zeynab in Damascus, the video revealed that those commanders are also at the front lines in Aleppo.
Jaffari also said that despite the efforts of other countries, President Bashar al-Assad’s position is strengthening in Syria, in part due to the efforts of Iran. “Now the enemy acknowledges that the only reason that they were not successful in Syria is the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran of the Syrian government,” he said. “The situation in Syria is becoming better day by day. Of course, parts of Syria are occupied by the fighters opposed to the Syrian government, but the process is such that there is no place for worry about this, and the process is going forward in favor of the Syrian government.”
The IRGC reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and since President Hassan Rouhani came into office, some have speculated that the IRGC has become more vocal about Syria, a realm it considers its responsibility, in order to pre-empt any attempts by the president to express a different or more moderate course of action. It was immediately after the elections that for the first time, a hard-line Iranian newspaper published pictures of IRGC soldiers that had been killed.
Rouhani’s administration has attempted to de-escalate tensions with both Western and regional countries. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been visiting Arab countries in the Persian Gulf that support Syria’s opposition, and has even made conciliatory remarks about resolving misunderstandings over three disputed islands with the United Arab Emirates. Though the islands are a sensitive issue for most Iranians, Zarif was attacked by hard-line media over an issue they considered a non-negotiable red line, and even suggested that negotiations over the islands will lead to negotiations over all of Iran’s territory.
Jaffari also criticized the foreign minister for saying that the United States has such a superior military capacity to Iran’s that it could take down Iran’s defense systems with one bomb. While Zarif attempted to stress that Iran’s strength comes from its people and not its military capacity, he was criticized by hard-liners in parliament as well. When asked about the comments, Jaffari said, “In no way is it like this. He has no experience and specialty in this field. Of course, we know him to be an expert diplomat, but if the enemy attacks us with thousands of missiles, maybe they can take out 20% of Iran’s military capabilities.”
Jaffari also said that in the nuclear deal, the concessions that Iran gave were the “maximum” and the concessions that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) gave were the “minimum.” While he acknowledged that Iran’s negotiators did not cross the red lines, he warned that if the P5+1 wants more concessions, “Iran must return to its previous status.”