What’s the Intention and Strategy of Iran in Syria?
In Syria, Iran is working extensively and spending heavily on choreographed efforts meant to minimize the possibility of president Bashar al-Saad falling from power any time soon. 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. With time, this approach has become an Iranian expeditionary training operation led by various arms 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.
Iran has also been extending help to shabiha militia that’s been fighting on the side of the Syrian government. 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. Such an outcome would be beneficial to both the militias and Tehran, with Iran preserving some space within Syria, from which it may act and project its military force.
Iranian involvement in Syria seems to mirror the activities and interests of several other armed groups. For example, Hezbollah from Lebanon started playing a direct part in the Syrian conflict as Asaad began to cede control over sections of Syrian 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. 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.