Who is the Iranian commander behind the crackdown in Syria? Today’s column will answer that question.
Everywhere there’s talk of the IRGC’s involvement in the crackdown against the ongoing protests in Syria. This crackdown is being carried out by the IRGC’s special unit known as the “Syrian IRGC.” Contrary to common belief, it did not form after the recent protests began; it has been active for more than two decades. Before the popular protests, the Syrian IRGC was an operations brigade in opposition to Israel and Lebanon. Aside from providing intelligence, the Syrian IRGC’s most important duty was to militarily and logistically support Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and a group (The Khalq Front to Free Palestine) led by Ahmad Gibrail.
The Commander of the Syrian IRGC was secretly appointed. Neither he nor his unit is ever officially mentioned in any of the Islamic Republic’s press conferences or meetings. However, we know that the Commander of the Syrian IRGC was previously a top IRGC commander.
Now who is in charge of the Syrian IRGC? None other than former Commander of the Sarallah Brigade, Brigadier General Ali (Mohammad Reza) Zahedi. He was also exclusively in charge of providing Tehran security. Now he’s active and stationed in Damascus. Brigadier General Zahedi is one of the top commanders from the Iran-Iraq War. During the eight year war with Iraq, he led a group, battalion, and finally the 14th Imam Hossein Brigade of Esfahan. From 2005-2008 he was also commander of the IRGC Ground Forces. During this period, Zahedi was also Commander of the Sarallah Brigade and responsible for providing security for Tehran against popular protests.
In 2008 he went to Syria as an IRGC commander. After the unrest and popular protests against Bashar Assad began, the team under Zahedi’s command was backed by anti-demonstration expeditionary forces. Some other Basij and IRGC commanders with operational, field, and leadership experience from past crackdowns in Tehran were sent to the Syrian IRGC to help the Assad government rein in the popular protests. Some commanders have been temporarily stationed in Syria while others are stationed permanently.