Iran's Revolutionary Guard admits it has advisers in Syria, Lebanon
Meanwhile, warships from around the world assembling in the Gulf on Sunday for what the U.S. military described as the most widely attended international naval exercise ever held in the Middle East.
A declaration by a senior Iranian official on Sunday that Iran's Revolutionary Guard has high-level advisers who are active in Syria and Lebanon, and that it will intervene militarily in Syria if necessary, has caused a storm in the Arab world.
The remarks by Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, constitute the first time that the regime has officially admitted to the presence of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the two countries.
In a rare statement made during a press conference in Tehran, Jafari said that members of the Quds Force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guard that operates abroad, are currently in Lebanon and Syria.
Members of the force are not currently providing military assistance, but give advice and "opinions" in a number of areas in which Iran has experience, Jafari said. He added that they were also assisting on the financial level.
If Syria were attacked militarily however, Jafari said, his troops will provide support, although he did not provide any further details.
Jafari told reporters, "We are proud to defend Syria, which constitutes a resistance to the Zionist entity," adding that Iran provides advice based on its expertise, while other countries support terror organizations.
He noted again that members of the Quds Force will intervene militarily, and provide military assistance to Syria "according to the circumstances."
Arab media reported extensively on Monday on the possible implications of this military presence. One Lebanese newspaper cited senior officials in the country as saying that this declaration will only increase the pressure on Hezbollah in Lebanon, and will create more friction between the different ethnic and political forces in the country.
A few days ago, the March 14 alliance, a coalition of Lebanese political parties and independents which is opposed to the Assad regime and Hezbollah, submitted a proposal to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to send UNIFIL forces to the eastern and northern borders of the country to prevent foreign agents from entering.
This unusual proposal was originally suggested by Israel during the negotiations over the Security Council resolution on UNIFIL's mission in the country, which took place at the end of the Second Lebanon War.
Meanwhile, amid rising regional tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program, warships from around the world were assembling in the Gulf on Sunday for what the U.S. military described as the most widely attended international naval exercise ever held in the Middle East.
According to Washington the exercise involves maneuvers to improve mine detection and clearance. The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said that the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 12 involved vessels and officials from 30 countries in six continents. It did not name the participating nations.
The Bahrain-based Central Command is responsible for an area comprising some 2.5 million square miles stretching from the Gulf to parts of the Indian Ocean.
Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports passes, and target U.S. military bases in the region if it was attacked.