A source close to Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran's Quds force, has denied media reports that members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were in Syria providing non-military assistance to Bashar al-Assad's army.
The source in Iran's Quds force told Al Arabiya that the reports were “fictional and absolutely untrue,” adding that Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, stressed that the Revolutionary Guard has no presence in Syria and Lebanon and that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of any country.
The U.S.-based Radio Farda’s website and Reuters had cited General Jafari as saying that there are Iranian troops in the Syria, but this doesn’t mean that the Islamic republic will “intervene” in confrontation with forces against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The source close to Suleimani, however, told Al Arabiya that Jafari has denied having said so.
The report, if it was true, would have provided the first official acknowledgement from a senior military commander that Iran has a military presence on the ground in Syria where an uprising has left tens of thousands dead since it began 18 months ago.
Western countries and Syrian opposition groups have accused Iran of providing weapons and expertise to Syrian armed forces and have suspected an Iranian military presence inside the country. Iran has denied this.
General Jafari, speaking in a very rare news conference in Tehran, warned of retaliation against the Gulf’s strategic Strait of Hormuz, U.S. bases in the Middle East and Israel if his country was to be attacked, AFP reported.
General Jafari also said that he believed Iran would abandon the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should it be targeted for military action.
However, according to websites in Persian, the general did not warn of confrontation.
Iranian warnings underlined the high tensions surrounding Iran and its disputed nuclear program, which Israel has threatened it could seek to disrupt with air strikes, with or without U.S. help.
AFP reported the general saying that the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel at the entrance of the Gulf through which a third of the world’s traded oil passes, would be a legitimate target for Iran should it be attacked.
“This is a declared policy by Iran that if war occurs in the region and the Islamic republic is involved, it is natural that the Strait of Hormuz as well as the energy (market) will face difficulties,” he said.
He suggested that U.S. military bases -- such as those in Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- would also be fair game for retaliation by Iranian missiles or proxy forces.
“The U.S. has many vulnerabilities around Iran, and its bases are within the range of the Guards. missiles. We have other capabilities as well, particularly when it comes to the support of Muslims for the Islamic republic,> he said.
He added that Tehran believed Israel was unsuccessfully trying to push the United States to take part in military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I do not think the attack would be carried out without U.S. permission,” he said.
However if Israeli jets or missiles did strike Iran, “nothing of Israel will be left, considering its size,” he warned.
“I do not think any part of Israel will be untouched given our missile capabilities. Thus, our response (warning of annihilatory retaliation) is in itself a deterrent.”
Jafari said that his personal opinion was that, in case of attack, Iran would leave the NPT which is meant to prevent states developing nuclear weapons while permitting atomic energy generation.
“In case of an attack, Iran’s obligations will change. My assessment is that Iran may leave the NPT -- but it would not mean a dash towards a nuclear bomb because we have a religious edict from the supreme leader” against atomic weapons, he said.