On May 26, 2013, the Iranian regime officially began to recruit Basiji fighters to fight with Assad’s troops in Syria. The Basij are the popular militia of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and serve as a reserve formation. Known for their loyalty to the Iranian regime, they were used extensively for putting down anti-regime protests in Iranian cities during mid-2009.
The name of the operation for which these troops are being recruited is “Mudafean Harem 2” (Defenders of the Holy Site 2), which mentions the Shiite Zeynab Sanctuary on the periphery of Damascus. Zeynab was the eldest daughter of Ali, the first Shiite Imam and a cousin of the Prophet Mohammad. Zeynab is the granddaughter of Mohammed and the sister of Hussein, son of Ali and the third Shiite Imam. Hussein was beheaded by a rival clan of another cousin of Mohammad, Yazid Bin Muawiyah, the sixth Caliph (680), during the battle of Karbala.
After the defeat, Zeynab was arrested with the rest of Hussein’s family and transferred to Damascus, where she died a few years later. Her sanctuary near Damascus is the object of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of Shiites from throughout the world.
The deployment of these Basij forces in Syria would provide greater flexibility for Assad’s army. For example, the Syrians could withdraw their front-line forces from the Golan Heights and replace them with Iranians. In the meantime the Syrian troops that were previously facing Israel could be used to fight Assad’s opposition. But such a change would be a regional “game-changer,” for it would place Iranian forces directly across from the Israel Defense Forces.