What’s the Intention and Strategy of Iran in Syria?
The state of Iran has a deep involvement in Syria entailing expensive and well coordinated efforts to help extend president Bashar al-Saad’s grip on power. In addition, the state is simultaneously preparing favorable grounds in Syria to retain its ability to harness the resources and spaces available there and realize its regional goals should Assad leave office.
A mix of Iranian armed forces and spy agency are giving advisory assistance to the Syrian forces to help the country’s leader remain in power. The evolution of these Iranian efforts has now taken the form of an expeditionary training force spearheaded by several units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The involvement of the IRGC’s Ground Forces in a conflict beyond Iranian’s borders denotes the country’s intention and capacity to assert its military power at the international level.
Iran is also sending a lot of military supplies in support of the Syrian regime, particularly via the air. This help has proved meaningful with various restocking routes on the ground between Baghdad and Damascus having been shut by the advancing opposition. The military supplies have played a major role in any significant strides that the Syrian army has made against the enemy.
Likewise, shabiha troops have also been getting help from Iran to fight in support of Assad. To some extent, Tehran is doing this to gain a hedged position in case of Asaad’s fall or the shrinking of the government’s grip to just Damascus and the coastal enclave of Alawite. Should that come to pass, the militias will appreciate Tehran’s help, and Iran will retain the ability to exercise its military power and operate from inside Syria.
What Iran does in Syria matches the objectives and activities of numerous other armed parties. For instance in 2012, Hezbollah from Lebanon got actively involved in the Syrian conflict once anti-government militia started gaining ground in the country. Hezbollah has been propping Damascus by providing robust and highly-skilled troops whose involvement in the war is tied to the same strategic interests that Iran bears.
Certainly, Iran’s activities within Syria are significantly limited due to factors beyond its power. Additiionally, it’s highly unlikely that Tehran will retain its current capacity to showcase military power in the event that the war ends and Asaad loses power. Nonetheless, Tehran has a hedging strategy meant to guarantee that, in case of the fall of the Syrian regime, its strategic regional interests do not suffer. Those goals are not far-fetched so long as the exit of Asaad leaves some Syrian regions under the governance of Tehran-friendly groups, allowing the country to operate from there, and hoping the opposition does not capture all of Syrian territory.