As Russia entered the war in Syria based on requests made by Iran, senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Quds Force commanders and even officials in Khamenei’s office launched measures to occupy the strategic city of Aleppo. In their meetings they said this operation is a matter of dignity for the Iranian regime and they must take over Aleppo at all costs. For this campaign Iran placed a large amount of financial and human resources.
However, despite the heavy casualties suffered to this day they have not been able to render any perceptible advances. On the other hand Khamenei has made neglecting taking over Aleppo a red line for the IRGC. Iran’s evaluation of the casualties suffered by the IRGC and Quds Force on the ground in Syria after the Aleppo operations, especially after the death of senior IRGC commander Hossein Hamedani and Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani himself being injured, is that the IRGC has suffered a crippling and backbreaking blow.
Despite contradictory reports in the media of the IRGC Quds Force lowering its number of forces in Syria, Iran’s policy is not focused on decreasing its boots on the ground. In fact due to the heavy blows they have received they intend to make changes in their tactics. Following heavy casualties suffered by the IRGC they intend to take more calculated measures in their attacks to provide more of an opportunity to reconsider their attack plans in various areas of Syria.
Another tactical change made by the IRGC in Syria following Hamedani’s death and Qassem Suleimani being wounded was to no longer send senior Quds Force and IRGC commanders to the frontlines. To this end they have limited the presence of their senior commanders in warfronts in Syria. Controlling operations in Syria by a number of lower-ranking Quds Force operations commanders is taking place through advisory roles, which of course will have direct effects in degrading the quality of the battles.
Based on the latest analysis and evaluations conducted in Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has received new weapons and equipment that are much stronger than before, and in comparison with ISIS, the FSA is a considered a much more potential and virtual threat for the IRGC and Assad regime. If ISIS is weakened in Syria the FSA and other Syrian resistance groups fighting Assad will gain strength and have more room to stage attacks. This is not at all in the interest of the Iranian regime and Assad. Therefore the priority for the IRGC and Quds Force is now to target the Free Syrian Army, and ISIS has become a second priority. Russia is in line with Iran’s analysis and therefore has focused its bombings on the FSA.
Recently Iran has lowered the number of its advisors in Iraq by 75%. The reason is the fact that Shiite militants have been set aside from taking part in operations in Iraq based on a new policy adopted by the al-Abadi government vis-à-vis the Shiite militias. A number of these advisors were sent back to Iran, with others dispatched to Syria. In January 2016 more than 100 Quds Force advisors missioned in Iraq were sent to Syria.
Shiite militia groups in Iraq are completely associated to Iran’s Quds Force, and this entity is widely using Shiite militias in the war in Syria. Two such groups, Asaeb al-Haq and the Nijba Movement, have the highest number of forces in Syria, and most of the militia casualties belong to these two groups, numbering at over 100 a month. Around one third of the Katayeb Hezbollah members are currently in Syria.
Iran received a huge blow from the formation of the Saudi-led Arab coalition aimed at opposing Tehran’s meddling policies in Arab countries. Now Tehran is attempting to downgrade the importance of this coalition and seeking bring in line countries that can form a roadblock before the Saudis in the international scene. This includes Iran’s efforts in Iraq where Shiite militias are used to impel the al-Abadi government to end relations with Saudi Arabia.
The attack staged against the Saudi embassy in Tehran was completely pre-planned and carried out by elements in the IRGC and the Bassij paramilitary force, who first staged a rally outside the Saudi embassy and then left the scene. These individuals were then briefed by the IRGC to attack the embassy and returned that night to storm the grounds with inflammable material. Amongst these individuals were a number of regime officials and the police reported to their commanders they cannot take any action against the attacking force due to the presence of these officials.
With anti-Saudi demonstrations staged by Shiite militia groups and elements associated to the Quds Force in Iraq they had assured Iran’s embassy in Baghdad they are ready to show the adequate reaction necessary to the execution of Sheikh Nimr, and destroy the recently opened Saudi embassy in Baghdad. They are currently planning for these measures against Saudi interests in Iraq, being Riyadh’s centers, companies or citizens.
Following increasing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab states severing all diplomatic ties, Iran has used all its assets in Iraq to pressure al-Abadi to adopt a stronger policy in condemning Riyadh.
The Quds Force has received reports from Yemen indicating the Houthis and Ansarallah forces are growing tired of the continuing war, and Ansarallah’s battle capabilities has lowered significantly in comparison to the start of the war. Therefore, they will welcome any agreement that will stop the war, yet this needs a green light from Iran.
A report prepared by the Quds Force for Khamenei’s office over developments in Yemen has described the Arab coalition airstrikes pounding Houthi and Ansarallah positions as very concerning, yet these groups have the upper hand in the ground war.
The IRGC Quds Force has presented a plan to the Supreme National Security Council to have Houthis stage missile attacks on Saudi soil from Yemen, but also gradually open new fronts in Saudi soil to increase domestic pressure on Riyadh. Tehran believes internal rebellion and moving the war into Shiite areas of Saudi Arabia can shift Riyadh’s focus from Yemen and place its assets to domestic matters.
Prior to the Arab coalition airstrikes in Yemen, the Quds Force had resorted to various methods through the IRGC Navy and Iran’s Red Crescent to send arms and ammunition to the Houthis. With Yemen’s borders blocked and air traffic controlled by Arab coalition warplanes, the Quds Force is now providing the necessities of the Houthis and Ansarallah with the help of Muscat by sending air transports over Oman into Yemen.