Hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel are on the ground in Lebanon fighting Israel, security sources say.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that they are there and operating some of the equipment," an Arab diplomatic source told The New York Sun yesterday.
Another foreign source, based in Washington, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps contingent in Lebanon is based in Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. He said the troops usually number a few dozen, but that the size of the force increased in connection with the hostilities that have broken out between Israel and Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, over the past week.
The sources said the Iranians had directly operated a radar-guided C–802 missile that Iran acquired from Communist China and that hit an Israeli navy missile boat off the coast of Lebanon on Friday, killing four Israeli seamen.
"This was a direct message to the Israelis that we are fighting the Iranians here," the Arab diplomatic source said.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard's mission in Lebanon includes keeping custody of Zalzal missiles and drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles. A report by an Israel-based research group, the Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, identifies the units of Iran's Revolutionary Guard "deployed and active in Lebanon" as the "Al-Quds Force." The Lebanon-based Iranian force "provides military guidance and support for terrorist attacks against Israel," the report says.
President Bush has openly blamed Iran, along with Syria, for sponsoring Hezbollah, but he has stopped short of identifying the presence of Iranian troops in Lebanon. Tomorrow, a senior National Security aide to Mr. Bush, Elliott Abrams, and the undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, will chair a meeting at the White House for at least 10 Iranian opposition organizations. The White House has hinted to those invited that President Bush may stop by.
The Iranian government has cheered Hezbollah's actions while at the same time publicly denying the presence of Revolutionary Guards in Iran.
Clearing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard from Lebanon has emerged as an unstated, but significant, Israeli war aim. Israelis also are hoping for tougher American and international sanctions on Iran and Syria as punishment for the Iranian and Syrian roles in Hezbollah's kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and raining of missiles on Israeli cities.
The Arab diplomatic source described the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, as "totally subservient" to Iran. "How more forceful can I put it?" he said.
In New York on Monday, Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said the Iranians had supplied Hezbollah with arms, equipment, training, and 10,000 rockets. He said he did not see how Hezbollah would have captured Israeli soldiers without "the tacit agreement and maybe support of the Iranians." And Mr. McCain said Iranians have "very heavily penetrated" southern Iraq, "including sending in terrorists" and equipment for the bombs known as improvised explosive devices.
The Hezbollah offensive against Israel followed a summit in Damascus. Reports vary on whether the meeting was attended by Sheik Nasrallah himself or by one of his top political aides, Sheik Hussein Khalil. Others said to be present include the head of Syrian military intelligence, Assef Shawkat, and the Iranian national security adviser, Ali Larijani, who is one of the many high-ranking Iranian officials who have been shuttling between Damascus and Tehran.
The president of the Reform Party of Syria, Farid Ghadry, who opposes the regime in Damascus, said there are indications that Hezbollah and the Iranians and Syrians recently attacked a Lebanese army base, signaling they are expanding their campaign beyond Israeli targets.