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 is also sending a lot of military supplies in support of the Syrian regime, particularly via the air. This has been very important considering that significant gains made by rebels have closed important ground supply channels between Syria and Iraq. The military supplies have played a major role in any significant strides that the Syrian army has made against the enemy.
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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.