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    Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, top center, reviews army troops marching during the 37th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017

    Hidden Forces: Israeli Ambassador Claims Iran has 82,000-Strong Army in Syria

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    Middle East
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    On Tuesday, Israel’s envoy to the UN Danny Danon said that Iran controls a force of 82,000 fighters in Syria: 60,000 Syrian troops; 10,000 Shiite militiamen from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan; 9,000 members of the Lebanese Iran-aligned militia Hezbollah; and 3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

    Danon said Iran had spent $35 billion on training and equipping this force. He went on to claim that the Islamic Republic was building missile bases in Syria, with the ultimate goal of turning Israel's war-torn neighbor "into the largest military base in the world."

    He claimed that Israeli intelligence had garnered this secret information and was now sharing it with the world. "We are releasing this classified information because it is vital for the world to understand that if we turn a blind eye in Syria, the Iranian threat will only grow," said Danon.

    "The Shi'ite crescent is on our doorstep. Iran is ready to strike at a moment's notice," he said, referring to the crescent-shaped region of the Middle East that has a Shia-majority population. As a Shia state, Tehran often styles itself as protector of the global Shia community.

    The ambassador added that Iran's intention was to destabilize the region and threaten both Israel and the West. "Why does Iran keep recruiting these extremists to be killed in the battlefields of Syria?" he asked. "Why is Iran building bases to house these fighters for the long run? The answer is clear: to further destabilize Syria and our region. To further threaten Israel, and to further terrorize the entire free world."

    While Israel has had minimal involvement with the Syrian Civil War, they have acted in the past to attack Hezbollah and other Iran-aligned groups that strayed too close to the de facto Israeli-Syrian border.

    Tel Aviv has made no bones about their refusal to tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence by their border and has conducted airstrikes in Syria to that effect. The most recent strike occurred on January 9, targeting Hezbollah and Syrian army positions with missiles and airstrikes. Syria claims that most of the missiles were intercepted, but some damage was done to materiel by the missiles that did get through.

    Iran in turn has made no secret of their presence in Syria: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asked for Tehran's help in 2011 and Iran has supported his government with Revolutionary Guardsmen and Shiite militiamen since at least 2013. An estimated 2,000 Revolutionary Guardsmen have died in Syria since the civil war began.

    Danon also brought up his country's continued opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear weapons deal between Iran, the members of the UN Security Council and Germany. While most of the UN supported the plan, Israel has strongly opposed it.

    "Since the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Iran has only increased its military spending," said Danon, adding that this was only made possible by the sanctions relief that Iran got in exchange for slowing their nuclear program. "In 2014, 17 percent of Iran's government spending went to its military expenditure. This past year, in 2017, this number ballooned to 22 percent. That's $23 billion spent on missiles, arms and other weapons of war."

    He also urged the international community not to "allow Iran to continue funding worldwide terror, pursue its dangerous internal arms buildup, and grow its military presence abroad."

    "The money the [Iranian] regime earns from your economic deals will be spent on ballistic missile testing, nuclear development and promoting worldwide terror… while you are making a profit; Iran is building an empire," he warned European countries who have taken the slackened sanctions as an opportunity to establish stronger business ties with Iran.

    "Iran starts with Israel; it is you who are next."

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    Tags:
    Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), The Syrian war, Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Bashar al-Assad, Danny Danon, Iran, Syria, Israel
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