Iran, prompted by a decision reached by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, is reportedly withdrawing 2,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGCs) and Basiji paramilitary combat soldiers deployed to Syria.
This revelation, first reported by Israel’s Channel 2, comes after US Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers that Iran has “pulled a significant number of troops” out of Syria, but added that this “doesn’t mean they’re still not engaged and active in the flow of weapons from Syria through Damascus to Lebanon.”
Some news outlets say the 2,500 troops being removed constitutes Iran’s entire force in Syria. However, Channel 2 reports that that nearly 700 military advisers will remain behind to assist Iran’s ally Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Iran is expected to continue arming and supporting its proxy, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists group.
The Shiite terrorist group has sustained heavy casualties in Syria. In December, analysts said Hezbollah had lost more than one-third of its fighting forces there, including some 1,300 to 1,500 soldiers
“At least 160 IRGC paramilitary soldiers are believed to have been killed in Syria, six of which were senior officers, and another 300 wounded,” notes Rudaw.
The majority of Iran’s forces have already been pulled out from Syria and the remaining ones are expected to return home shortly, reports Channel 2.
Channel 2 did point out that the decision to remove the forces was made jointly by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rouhani.
However, no reason for the decision was publicly provided.
Iran has been providing both financial and military aid to the Assad regime since the start of the civil war in March 2011.
“Near the start of the Syrian civil war, it was reported that then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops,” reports Arutz Sheva 7.
“Iran, however, has continuously rejected allegations that it has any fighters on the ground in Syria,” it adds. “Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian insisted several months ago that Tehran only has ‘military advisors’ in the war-torn country.”
While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the ceasefire on Sunday, he warns that Israel will not allow a “terror front in the Golan Heights,” reports i24 News.
The fragile truce is in effect, with battle zones across the war-torn country largely stable for the first time since the civil war started five years ago, despite some sporadic breaches.
“We welcome the efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Syria,” Netanyahu said, but warned that any agreement must “include the cessation of Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.”
“Israel will not agree to transfer weapons to Hezbollah and we will not create a terror front in the Golan Heights, Netanyahu declared.
“These were the red lines we have set and which remained red lines of the state of Israel,” he noted.