Tehran has repeatedly denied that Iranian combat forces are fighting alongside the troops of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where the conflict has left tens of thousands of dead.
"Today we fight in Syria for interests such as the Islamic Revolution. Our defense is to the extent of the Sacred Defense," Hossein Hamedani was quoted as saying by Fars. "Sacred Defense" is the term used by Iranian officials to refer to the bloody 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Fars reported that Hamedani made the comments on May 4 at an administrative council meeting in the province of Hamedan.
The news agency, close to the IRGC, removed the text of Hamedani's remarks from its website a few hours after posting it. A cached copy of the report is still available here.
Iranian news agencies have a record of removing content deemed sensitive or controversial without providing any explanation.
The IRGC commander said Iran shared its war experience with Syria. "In this conflict, without any expectations, the experiences were transferred, and training was provided to the Syrians," Hamedani was quoted as saying by Fars. "We provided training that included the separation of armed forces from the people and reduced the number of casualties."
Fars also quoted Hamedani as saying that the Syrian regime was no longer "at the risk of collapse."
Hamedani, the former commander of Tehran's Rasulollah division of the IRGC, was also quoted as saying that the Islamic republic had established a "second Hizballah" in Syria, referring to the Lebanese Shi'ite militia allied with Tehran. "The prime minister of Israel had said, at the time when the U.S. was ready to attack Syria, come, weaken Hizballah and cut the hand of Iran. But Iran has formed a second Hizballah in Syria," he said.
He also claimed that 130,000 "trained" members of Iran's Basij force were ready to enter Syria.
Iranian officials claim that Tehran provides only humanitarian and economic assistance as well as technical help to Assad's regime.
In 2012, the commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, made a rare acknowledgment of Iran's military presence in Syria, while saying that Iranian forces were providing solely nonmilitary assistance to the Syrian regime. "A number of members of the Quds Force are present in Syria but this does not constitute a military presence," Jafari was quoted as saying at a news conference.
Jafari said Iran could change its policy and become militarily involved if Syria came under attack.
In recent months, Iranian media have reported the killing of several Iranians in the Syrian conflict. According to the reports, some of the slain Iranian fighters had gone to Syria to defend a holy shrine in the suburbs of Damascus.
Iran views the Syrian regime as its main strategic ally in the region and as part of an "axis of resistance" against Israel and Arab countries. "Syria helped us greatly during the imposed war [with Iraq]," Hamedani noted.
He referred to Iran, Russia, and China as Syria's "friendly camp," while adding that some Arab countries, Turkey, the United States, and EU countries have been trying to bring the Syrian regime down.
Hamedani said Iran's alliance with Syria, the creation of Hizballah, and the strengthening of the "axis of resistance" were among the factors that have affected the Syrian crisis. "Without these, the region would be easy for the U.S. [to influence]," he said.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari