Before deciding to commit some 20,000 troops to bolster its ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Tehran sent its number one spy, General Qassem Soleimani, to the front to see why the Syrians were getting routed. Reports of his visit, and of the pep talks he gave while reviewing the troops, are beginning to emerge. The Times of London:
“Why are your heads down?” he was reported to have demanded. “The people of Syria have been paying their taxes to pay your wages for precisely such a day, so that you defend them against a band of evil beasts. Why have you lost your nerve now?”
Morale has been plummeting among Syrian troops and senior ranks alike amid a series of defeats for the regime. They include routs of isolated government posts where soldiers were posted almost solely to demonstrate the continued sovereignty of Damascus over the entire country.
Other setbacks appear to have been the result of tactical withdrawals, as in the case of Palmyra, which fell to Isis last month.
Now that Iranian commanders are on the ground, reports are trickling out of several officers and soldiers serving in the Syrian Army being executed on charges of desertion. Now News has the story:
The three officers, who were also accompanied by several soldiers, were accused deserting their duty and “betraying the homeland,” the daily reported Sunday.
According to the report, none of the other Syrian officers or soldiers present at the time were able to prevent the execution as “officers responsible for military operations in the Jourin area are under the command of Iranian officers.”
A Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander told the paper that “the regime has handed over the operations room to Iranian officers and leadership.”
Sources told the Times that Tehran’s support for Assad is not ironclad—that they are most concerned about keeping a supply corridor to Hezbollah open—and that if the current assault fails, they could consider abandoning him. There’s no word, however, as to how Iran might keep that corridor open without Assad in place. So all eyes are on what happens next. A full-scale defeat for Iran and its allies in Syria remains, despite all the complications that would follow, our best hope for some kind of regional order in the Middle East.