Yet another in long line of Israeli conspiracy theories passing for intelligence: former Shabak chief, Avi Dichter told a visiting European delegation that Iran has drafted a 25,000-strong Shiite “foreign legion” to fight in Syria. He said the forces were fighting against Sunni rebels, but not ISIS. Considering that last year media reports estimated only 3,000 Iranian forces there, this would be a remarkable escalation of Iran’s role. But curiously, no other foreign intelligence agency has mentioned this. They certainly would if it were true, because it would reflect poorly on the Iran nuclear deal which, though it didn’t deal specifically with the Syrian conflict, was expected to moderate Iranian intervention in external conflicts like this one.
BBC Persian invented even larger detachment as high as 50,000 with 10,000 of them Afghans! The Guardian accepts a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies estimate of 10,000 without noting that the latter is a neocon, anti-Iranian think tank. Reuters quotes a specialist from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP, another neocon, anti-Iran outfit) as saying 1,000 Pakistani Shias are fighting in Syria. How that adds up to 25,000 or 50,000 is anyone’s guess.
The 25,000-man army isn’t Iranian in origin, hence a “foreign legion.” But given the conditions under which they fight and their poor training (veterans of such units say they are given two weeks basic training before being shipped off to the battle zone), this is little more than a mercenary army with little professionalism or motivation. We aren’t talking about the well-oiled fighting machine that is the Revolutionary Guards.
There is one unspoken irony here: the Iranians are not sending these irregular Shia fighters to Syria as part of unilateral war of conquest. They are responding to the tens of thousands of Sunni fighters already fighting there courtesy of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others as part of a intra-Muslim proxy war. So if the Sunni states supporting radical Islamist forces (al Nusra and ISIS) in Syria dropped their allies, the Iranians would have no need to recruit their own Shia fighters. Blaming the Iranians solely for this phenomenon is nonsense.
The rest of Dichter’s briefing borders on the hilarious–if it weren’t so scary-insane:
Dichter told the delegation that Iran’s “dream” was to rule the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
“Everybody should ask themselves why the Iranians are building missiles with a range of 2,000 km, twice the distance (from their territory) to Israel,” he said.
“Egypt is also within their range, as is Saudi Arabia. Two thousands years ago, Iran was an empire and now it wants to recreate that.”
I do find it charming when Israelis who have absolutely no knowledge about Iran and its history begin speculating that Iran wants to revive an ancient 2,000 year-old Persian kingdom. Especially when no Iranian official has ever said anything remotely similar.
But the real kicker is the claim Iran has a dream to overthrow the Saudi dynasty and rule over the Muslim holy sites. That too is a “dream” that never was and never will be: no credible Iranian source or official has ever said anything remotely similar.
All I can say is that if Dichter ran the Shabak like he runs his mouth, it was an even shabbier outfit than I thought possible. There’s a joke that Israeli Palestinian MK Ahmed Tibi tells:
“For years we Arabs had a deathly fear of the Shin Bet. But as soon as Shabak veterans like Gideon Ezra, Avi Dichter and others joined the Knesset we saw what we’d been frightened of and stopped being afraid.”