Iran reportedly confirmed late Sunday that it has sent troops to aid Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on anti-regime protests, adding that the country’s uprising would have been bloodier had it not interfered.
The rare admission that Iran was aiding the Damascus regime came in a statement from General Ismail Qa’ani, deputy-commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force,
“If the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of civilians would have been twice as bad,” General Ismail Qa’ani, deputy-commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, told Tehran’s ISNA news agency.
Iran, he added, “Had physically and non-physically stopped the rebels from killing many more among the Syrian people.”
But after only a few hours of being published on the ISNA’s website, the quote was removed without any explanation.
Gen. Qa’ani’s statement was however still picked up by international media outlets online.
Some analysts say that his published statement was merely a slip-up, although it bears some truth.
“I think what he said was not studied, he didn’t consult with his superiors, it just came out of his mouth in an occasion when he shouldn’t have said something about Iranian participation in Syria,” said Alireza Nourizadeh, the director of the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London.
The statement had come at a tense time in Syria, following the killing of at least 108 people, including many children, in Houla, a neighborhood in the embattled province of Homs.
The massacre has drawn international condemnation from the United Nations, the United States, Britain, Germany and France, while the Arab League called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.
“But what he [Qa’ani] has said is true; the uprising would have been bloodier had Iran not participated. Syria had the Quds force on its side,” Nourizadeh added.
“The Quds used their intelligence networks to train the Syrian army how to fight people without killing; how to use force to cause injury, without being accused of a massacre.
“The Syrian army was not well trained. Iranians also went to Syria as experts on cyber warfare, teaching them how to control websites and social media and how to jam television channels,” said Nourizadeh.
After Qa’ani’s controversial statement was removed, Iran on Monday condemned killings in Houla, blaming them on “terrorist actions” rather than its Damascus ally and calling for the perpetrators to be punished.
Iran “condemns the terrorist actions in the Houla area in Homs in Syria. The killing of a number of innocent people in the area has distressed the Islamic nations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement relayed by official media.
It denounced the “suspect act” and urged authorities “to identify and punish those responsible.”