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. At the same time, the country is setting conditions right to ensure it can continue using Syrian territory and assets to protect its regional interests in case Assad leaves power.
The Iranian security agencies and intelligence units are currently advising the Syrian armed forces regarding how to keep Bashar al-Saad in office. So far, the assistance has morphed into an Iranian expeditionary training mission under the leadership of specific branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). That Iran has deployed the IRGC’s Ground Forces to war overseas is a clear indicator of how willing and capable the country has become to project its military might outside its borders.
Iran has also been sending aircraft to deliver stockpiles of weapons to Syria. 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 hardware delivered has injected appreciable impetus into the Syrian forces, helping them win numerous encounters with militia.
Likewise, shabiha troops have also been getting help from Iran to fight in support of Assad. This move may be somehow inspired by the need to counter any collapse of Asaad or narrowing of his territory to Alawite–a coastal enclave, and the country’s capital. The militias will find Tehran very useful in such an event, and their engagement will allow Iran to continue operating inside Syria and asserting its military influence from there.
Iranian involvement in Syria seems to mirror the activities and interests of several other armed groups. A case in point is Lebanese Hezbollah, which swung into direct action in the Syria war immediately after the government started losing control over parts of its territory in 2012. This organization has helped sustain Asaad through its well-drilled military wing, whose activities in Syria mirror the strategic objectives of Tehran.
Evidently, circumstances beyond the control of Iran have meant that the country’s influence over Syria is constrained. 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. Nevertheless, Tehran is continuously implementing counter-measures to ascertain that any eventual defeat of the Syrian government does not interfere Iran’s strategic regional objectives. Such interests are feasible if Iran is able to operate from certain bases in parts of Syria under rule of friendly groups after the downfall of Asaad, provided that anti-government militias are unable to fully take over all Syrian territories.