Iranian military force taking shape right under Israel's nose

In the past months, there has been a lot of talk in the media about a possible threat to Israel, if and when Iran establishes permanent bases in Syria. Just last Friday, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria, very close to Damascus and 50 kilometers from the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, however, without any public declarations, Iran is quietly recruiting young Syrians to establish a battalion just 30 kilometers from the Israeli border. Meet the Iranian force taking shape right under Israel’s nose.

The 313th Battalion: Waiting for the ‘messiah’

Opposition organizations in southern Syria, one of the rebels’ last strongholds, revealed recently that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have set up headquarters in the Christian village of Izra in the Daraa Governorate (near the Syria-Jordan-Israel tripoint), to recruit Shiite and possibly members of other pro-Iranian minority groups.

The alleged Iranian base as documented last month in Syria  (Photo: Digital Globe, McKenzie intelligence Services, BBC)

The alleged Iranian base as documented last month in Syria (Photo: Digital Globe, McKenzie intelligence Services, BBC)

The number 313 is known in Lebanon’s Shiite sector as a magic number. According to tradition in this branch of Islam, 313 is the number of fighters that will arrive with the Mahdi, the Shiite “messiah.” The founders of the 313th Brigade (which is still the size of a battalion) gave it both a messianic number and a messianic name, Ansar al-Mahdi (supporters of the messiah).

The feeling of victory among the Shiite militias supporting the Iraqi and Syrian armies against the Islamic State (ISIS), the “Sunni Satan,” has created a sense of euphoria and an expectation for the arrival of the messiah among Shiite religious circles. Now, Iran is interested in leveraging the Shiite revival in Iraq and in Syria for a battle against “the Zionist enemy.”

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are reportedly recruiting and training Syrian citizens  (Photo: AP)

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are reportedly recruiting and training Syrian citizens (Photo: AP)

Most of the information about the new battalion hasn’t reached the press yet, but it can be found in the Facebook and Twitter accounts of locals who fear for the fate of the Sunni majority in the Daraa Governorate. According to their reports, the Revolutionary Guards are recruiting members of minority groups, primarily from Shiite villages in the region (such as Busra al-Harir, Namar Khirbet Ghazaleh and al-Shaykh Maskin). They are well-equipped, receive an army uniform and are trained by officers from the Revolutionary Guards. They are also assisted by Hezbollah operatives in the towns of Izra and the nearby al-Shaykh Maskin.

Competition with Syrian army and Russians

Iran’s direct recruitment effort in southern Syria aims to compete with the Syrian army and its Russian patrons. The Iranians, who are operating in the region under the nose of the Syrian army’s 12th Brigade, are persuading young locals to join the new battalion by offering a higher-than-average salary (about $200 a month). The young men are joining the battalion to evade regular and reserve service on the war fronts in Bashar Assad’s army, where they would likely have to sacrifice their lives.

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Updated: November 30, -0001 — 12:00 am
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