What Exactly is Iran Doing in Syria?
The republic of Iran is involved in far-reaching, costly, and integrated activities in Syria to prop president Bashar al-Saad’s regime for as long as possible. 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. 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 has also been sending aircraft to deliver stockpiles of weapons to Syria. This has been very important considering that significant gains made by rebels have closed important ground supply channels between Syria and Iraq. 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. 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.
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. 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. There’s also a high chance that the end of the conflict and fall of Asaad would deal a major blow to Iran’s ability to project military force. 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. This strategy borders on the use of certain Syrian territories under the control of pro-regime or pro-Tehran groups after the fall of Assad, assuming that rebels will fail to set up full control over the entire country.