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Syria Update: Who Are These Iranian Hostages?

In Syria, a rebel commander took dozens of Iranians hostage after discovering them traveling, rather conspicuously, through Damascus. Today, Iran has appealed to the rebel-friendly governments of Turkey and Qatar to get its citizens back—trouble is, they may not be mere “citizens.” LA Times reports:

The [rebel] commander labeled the captives Iranian militiamen nabbed while on a “reconnaissance mission” in Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Iran says the hostages — their numbers have variously been reported as 47 and 48 — are pilgrims who were visiting a revered Shiite Muslim shrine near Damascus when they were kidnapped en route to their hotels.

Iran has repeatedly denied rebel allegations that it has dispatched military and intelligence units to Syria to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad in his effort to crush an almost 17-month-old rebellion.

The Iranian regime may have already tipped its hand here: Last month, the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Guard corps, Ismail Gha’ani, stumbled into telling an Iranian student paper that the regime’s blackops have been active in Syria in order to shore up Butcher Assad. The Guardian reported:

Ismail Gha’ani, the deputy head of Iran’s Quds force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guards tasked with overseas operations, said in an interview with the semi-official Isna news agency: “If the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”

Isna published the interview at the weekend but subsequently removed it from its website.

It quoted Gha’ani as saying: “Before our presence in Syria, too many people were killed by the opposition but with the physical and non-physical presence of the Islamic republic, big massacres in Syria were prevented.”

As the LA Times story notes, there seems to be a wave of piety in the region: A group of Shiite pilgrims from Lebanon has also been captured in Syria. Their captors say they are from Hezbollah—but perhaps it’s just another mix-up with a religious tour gone off the beaten path.

As for Iran’s appeal to Qatar and Turkey to free the hostages…we’ll see. Neither regime is particularly fond of Iran, and both governments have a lot of questions to be answered before anybody goes free. The big takeaway from this intrigue is that the conflict in Syria increasingly involves other powers in the region, with an Iran-Hezbollah bloc squaring off against a pro-rebel side led by the Gulf sheikhs and Turkey. Syria may not be big enough for the two of them.

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  • Cunctator

    Nothing at all surprising about this. The US arrested Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials in Iraq, and just let them go. We all know that Iran is engaged in blackops all over the world: but few if any governments are prepared to do anything.

  • Agim Zabeliz

    “The big takeaway from this intrigue is that the conflict in Syria increasingly involves other powers in the region, with an Iran-Hezbollah bloc squaring off against a pro-rebel side led by the Gulf sheikhs and Turkey.”

    Was it Kissinger that said “It’s a pity they can’t both lose”?

  • alex scipio

    Here’s a question for Dr Mead:

    How much is islamism costing the world? My recollection from a govt Exec class @ Harvard was that Desert Storm cost the global economy about $80B. I’d bet the Iraq & Afgh wars – the result of islamism attacking infidels, supporting muslim homicide bombers, supporting islamism (taliban), are probably north of a couple of trillion $. Last report I read was that about 22 of the 25 wars globally right now are islamists fighting their infidel neighbors.

    So – what’s the cost of islamism? Does anyone care that these trillions could have been far better used in improving the human condition, but are utterly wasted on bullets, AvGas, tank fuel, body armor, etc., while engaged in fighting the 7th Century?

    Here’s one answer: The world needs those trillions far more than it needs a forced return to the 7th Century – and it’s time to lay it out to the islam powers that be, whether in riyadh, teheran, damascus, cairo, islamabad or wherever: Stop this crap or we’re going to nuke your major cities because you are holding bcak the entire world, but mostly the global poor, with your insanity.

    .. and then FOLLOW THROUGH.

    The world’s poor needs far more from the wealthy nations than generations of hot air and having their freedoms stolen or delayed by the barbaric backwardness of islamists. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the global Middle Class to create new anything while so much tax revenue is being spent on containing – rather than obliterating – islamists.

    After all, this wold be the ADULT thing to do. Keeping global peace as Great Powers once did.

  • JamesG

    A key question: Of what sex are these people?

    In my experience pilgrims to shrines tend to be female. (Haj to Mecca excepted.)

    Note to PCers: for “sex” read “gender.”

  • Kris

    “Iran has appealed … to get its citizens back”

    And released they must be! In due course. In the fullness of time. At the appropriate juncture. When the time is ripe. Say, in another 441 days?

  • Sam L.

    Yes, and the Crusades were religious tourism, too.

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