Iran has withdrawn 275 of its elite Revolutionary Guard forces from Syria due to an economic crisis at home, reports The Sunday Times.
Hundreds of Iranian soldiers from the elite “Unit 400” brigade have been fighting alongside Syrian government troops in the civil war against opposition forces hoping to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the report, published by the UK-based newspaper on Sunday, the information was confirmed by a relative of one of the Iranian officers in Syria.
Increasingly severe international sanctions have been eating away at the Iranian economy for months in the hope that at some point, the Islamic Republic will be persuaded to halt its nuclear development activities.
The sanctions have done nothing to stop Iran from enriching uranium, however, as Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pointed out in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month.
Netanyahu warned that more than sanctions will be required to stop Iran from developing an atomic bomb, and said that Israel would not allow such a threat to its existence, regardless of whether the rest of world took action or not.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, has continued to focus on imposing more sanctions as a means to trying to stop Iran from continuing its nuclear development program. Over the past year, Iran has doubled the number of underground centrifuges that are actively enriching uranium – a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon.
On Saturday, Panetta warned Iran the international community is ready to impose more sanctions if Tehran does not begin to “address concerns” over its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Israel has made it clear that sanctions and economic stressors are not the issue: Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said last week that sanctions have caused “great economic difficulties” for the average Iranian.
He predicted that Iran's economy would come close to collapsing due to the international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program – a possible reason that “Unit 400” flew out of Syria last week.