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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.

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.

Assad has also benefited from Iranian weapons supplies send to his country, specifically by air. This help has proved meaningful with various restocking routes on the ground between Baghdad and Damascus having been shut by the advancing opposition. Thanks to the weapon stockpiles, the Syrian regime has managed to register a number of victories against the opposition.

Iran has also been extending help to shabiha militia that’s been fighting on the side of the Syrian government. 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.

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. 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. Likewise, Iran will most likely suffer a substantial restriction of its capability to assert its military power over Syria once the current regime falls and the war ends. 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.

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