Is Iran Retreating From Syria?

by DR. MICHAEL LEDEEN December 15, 2015

My friend and terrific reporter, Eli Lake, has reported that American and other Western defense experts believe that Iran is withdrawing troops from Syria. The Saudis' London outlet says the same, with feebler sources (some FSA guy who says he was listening to Iranian communications).

I have my doubts. An Iranian retreat would be a watershed event, because it would mean that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had done a 180 on a fundamental principle of his regime: doing whatever it takes to save Bashar al-Assad's tyrannical rule in Syria.

Our eyes in the skies are very keen, and no doubt some Iranian ground forces, spurred by the significant loss of life they have suffered in the past couple of years, are returning to the Islamic Republic. On the other hand -- if you follow Emanuele Ottolenghi's tweets (@eottolenghi) -- you'll see significant air traffic between Iran and Syria. As Emanuele says, those airplanes are carrying weapons, ammunition, and fighters. It doesn't look as if this resupply operation is diminishing.

My own sources in Iran insist that there is no retreat from Khamenei's long-standing insistence that Iran do everything necessary to ensure the survival of the Assad regime. He has given his military commanders unlimited funds and unrestricted freedom of action. To be sure, the fight hasn't been a great success thus far -- the Russians' bloody bombing spree proves that. And the reports of grave injuries to the Revolutionary Guards leadership, including General Qasssem Suleimani, suggest there is undoubtedly intense rancor within the country's fractious elites. I am told that Suleimani is in the same Tehran hospital suite where Khamenei himself was treated when he was in a coma a couple of years ago. Suleimani is said to have three bad wounds: one to the back of his head, one to his neck, and the third to an arm/wrist.

So what's going on?

The Quds Force includes thousands of foreigners, primarily from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iraq. It wouldn't be surprising if such foreign fighters were replacing Iranian cannon fodder on the Syrian battlefield. The four allies fighting for Assad -- Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Syria -- have scheduled a high-level strategy meeting in Baghdad later this week to review the situation.

Finally, there is always the possibility that the intelligence is either wrong or manipulated. The Pentagon's inspector general is investigating complaints from CENTCOM analysts that their reports and analyses from Afghanistan have been systematically and deliberately suppressed or doctored to conform to the policy preferences of the White House and military appointees. Maybe there is an element of such politicization in this story.

Pending further enlightenment, color me dubious.

A version of this piece previously appeared on PJ Media

Dr. Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is also a contributing editor at National Review Online. Previously, he served as a consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department.  He has also served as a special adviser to the Secretary of State. He holds a Ph.D. in modern European history and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rome.

He is author of more than 20 books, the most recent include: Accomplice ot Evil: Iran and the War Against the West; The War Against the Terror Masters;  The Iranian Time Bomb; Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today As Five Centuries Ago, Tocqueville on American Character: Why Tocqueville's Brilliant Exploration of the American Spirit Is As Vital and Important Today As It Was Nearly Two Hundred Years Ago; and, Freedom Betrayed: How America Led a Global Democratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away

Dr. Ledeen regularly appears on Fox News, and on a variety of radio talk shows.  He has been on PBS's NewsHour and CNN's Larry King Live, among others, and regularly contributes to the Wall Street Journal and to National Review Online. He has a blog on

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