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.
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. 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 is also sending a lot of military supplies in support of the Syrian regime, particularly via the air. Syria needs that sort of assistance with several resupply roads connecting Damascus and Baghdad unavailable as militia gain significant ground. The military hardware delivered has injected appreciable impetus into the Syrian forces, helping them win numerous encounters with militia.
Additionally, Iran is actively helping shabiha forces who are on the same front as the Syrian army. 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. 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.
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. The group has extended support to Asaad’s regime in the form of a strong well-trained military force whose role in the war is perfectly aligned with the strategic interests of Tehran.
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. However, Iran is establishing counter-measures so that, if and when Asaad cedes power, it can continue chasing its strategic interests in the region. 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.