Sunday 11 October 2015

'Psychological blow' in ISIS killing of Iranian general in Syria

Washington (CNN)The death of a top Iranian military commander in Syria this week has dealt a "psychological blow" to elements backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

The killing of a commander in the Revolutionary Guards Corps at the hands of ISIS also highlights the extent of Iranian involvement in Syria and the dire straits in which Assad finds himself, Washington-based analysts say.

Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani was killed outside Aleppo, Syria, where he was advising the Syrian army in its fight against extremists, Iranian state media reported Friday.

Iranian media carried messages of condolence from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who described Hamedani's death as a big loss and applauded the senior commander for his bravery.

"He was in charge of [Iranian] operations inside Syria," said former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht. "He's been involved in this from A to Z, so in the short term, it's probably a fairly significant loss."

The current U.S. intelligence official said the general's death would be a setback for fighters supporting the government.

"There's no doubt that it is a psychological blow to pro-regime forces in Syria," he said.

Analysts say the high-level loss highlights the extent of Iran's involvement in the fighting.

READ: Iran's Quds Force leader traveled to Moscow in violation of U.N. sanctions, official says

"The fact that you have a senior Iranian general shows both the desperation of the regime, as well as now the degree of Iranian involvement now in Syria," said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The United States and Iran both say they are fighting ISIS terrorists, but in practice they have different goals: The United States is supporting rebels trying to oust Assad, while Assad's close ally Iran became involved to defend his regime.

"I'm not sure it's the Iranian objective to beat ISIS," said Gerecht. "I think the primary Iranian objective is to ensure that Assad does not fall."

Iran has become increasingly public about its aid to Syria's government, at first not disclosing flights to Syria in 2012 which Washington believed to be full of advisers and weapons. Now, however, Iranian officials praise their officers for assisting and advising Syrian regime forces.

"It's harder for the Iranians to hide when it's someone like that who has real visibility," said Dennis Ross, former adviser on Iran to President Barack Obama.

READ: U.S. suspending program to train and equip Syrian rebels

In an interview with Iranian TV last weekend, Assad publicly thanked the Iranians -- along with Russia, which last week began bombing his opponents -- for their support.

"We want help from our friends, and this is what Iran is offering, and what Russia is offering," he said, hailing Russia's recent initiative to form a coalition between Russia, Syria and Iran.

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