Lebanese sources revealed on Thursday that hundreds of Iranian troops have entered Syria in the last ten days, and are planning a major ground offensive together with Syrian regime forces and Iran-proxy Hezbollah terrorists.
The ground offensive against rebel forces in northwestern Syria will be supported by Russian airstrikes, according to two Lebanese sources familiar with developments in Syria who spoke to Reuters.
"The (Russian) airstrikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies," said one source. "It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside."
Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, but despite its claims of an anti-Islamic State (ISIS) operation, it reportedly hit civilians and US-backed rebel forces, who are fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as ISIS.
The sources revealed that the ground operation is meant to recapture land that the rebels have won from Assad's regime.
"The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers...we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more," said the second source, noting Iraqi forces - likely Shi'ite militias - will also take part.
Iran and Syria have denied an Iranian troop presence backing up Assad on the ground, but an Israeli security source just last month confirmed that Iran has sent hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guards soldiers to fight for Assad during the ongoing civil war.
Proving the longstanding presence of Iranian soldiers is the fact that top Iranian generals have been killed fighting in Syria, as reported in Iranian media.
Experts and Syrian officials revealed in an April report that Iran is spending $35 billion a year to prop up Assad's regime, and is likewise deploying thousands of its troops in the country. The reason for this is that Iran needs to maintain a route of access through Syria to the Mediterranean by which it can supply weapons to Hezbollah and strengthen its growing regional influence.