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. All together, the nation is busy creating the perfect circumstances under which it may retain the capability to exploit the Syrian territory and resources to safeguard its regional interests if the Assad’s regime falls.
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 is also sending a lot of military supplies in support of the Syrian regime, particularly via the 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.
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. 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. 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.
For sure, forces that Tehran cannot defeat have prevented the state from having control all over Syria. 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. However, Iran is establishing counter-measures so that, if and when Asaad cedes power, it can continue chasing its strategic interests in the region. 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.