„Iran is shoring up the Syrian regime from a secret HQ in Damascus nicknamed ‘the Glasshouse’ – and commanding a huge covert army in support of Assad, according to leaked intelligence passed by activists to MailOnline.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claims that the theocratic state’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has spent billions in hardware for its ally Bashar al-Assad in the last five years – and runs operations on the ground from a five-floor monolith near Damascus airport. (…) If the activists‘ claims are accurate, this would mean that the fundamentalist Tehran regime and its Shia proxies are far more powerful than has been estimated. Western analysts have so far placed the total Iranian-led Shia force at just 16,000.
The dissidents make the claim that Iran now commands about 60,000 Shia troops in Syria – 15,000 more men than Britain took into the 2003 Iraq war – while Assad‘s army has been reduced to just 50,000 soldiers. (…) The suggestion that Iran has so many soldiers on the battlefield – 16,000 Iranian troops commanding 45,000 Shia mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon as well as Palestinians and Baluchis, a minority group from Afghanistan – is likely to cause anxiety in the region and in the West, which is lifting sanctions on the regime after signing a controversial nuclear deal.
Kamal Alam, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that the leaked intelligence was ‚entirely plausible‘. ‚I go quite regularly to Syria and visit the battlefields, and I’ve seen how the Iranians try to keep their operations as secret as possible,‘ he said. ‚Their troops tend to speak Arabic rather than Farsi in public, and generally don’t wear Iranian uniforms. This makes it very hard for observers to know how many are in the country.‘
Analysts have been forced to use conservative estimates of troop numbers, Alam said, because Tehran – which is wary of causing alarm both at home and abroad – does not release reliable figures. In addition, Syria‘s President Assad, who leads a secular administration, downplays Iran‘s support to avoid the impression that he is a puppet of the Islamist regime, he said.
One security source told MailOnline: ‚Iran is getting itself into a position where whether Assad stands or falls, Tehran is in the best position to dominate whatever comes next.‘“