Late last year a photo of a man circulated the internet. He was Syrian. In his hand was held an Iranian flag. While he was waving it an Iranian aid convoy was entering the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. Aid convoys like this are common in Syria. Iran moves in and out of the country unimpeded, in coordination with Syrian government forces, and sometimes in place of them.
The Syrian Civil War is about to enter into its eighth consecutive year, and it’s showing no signs of resolving anytime soon. That is,in part, due to the sheer number of political players currently operating on Syrian soil.
There’s the Assad Regime, Free Syrian Army, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, IS, and external player such as Russia, the United Kingdom,France, Netherlands, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and the US, just to name a few.
It’s a mess and we haven’t even begun to talk about humanitarian issues such as the refugee crisis.
With all those pieces on the board it becomes easy to lose track of what individual players are doing. Iran is one key player. As Iran is operating in coordination with the Assad’s forces and Russian forces it is easy to think of them as a part of a larger body, what Italy was to Germany and Japan in the second World War.
However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many groups are focused on how to get out of Syrian, but Iran has no intentions of going anywhere. They have an agenda for the Syrian Civil War that extends far beyond winning it.
The Iranian government, currently led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, hold the policy of maintaining regional stability through “regional solutions to regional problems”. Iran remains opposed to any form of support,military or humanitarian, being provided by non-Middle Eastern countries directly. This is due to the effects of non-regional countries becoming operatives in local conflicts in the past such as the U.S support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, which Iran lost in 1988.
Iran currently acting as the coordinator of all pro-Assad forces in Syria, including Syrian, Russian, Iran, and contracted troops, and also is serving as the main distributor of armaments in Syria. This accomplishes two objectives:
- It creates Syrian dependency, allowing Iran to coalesce Syria into a bloc of Middle-Eastern countries which are in opposition to Western nations and their organisations of globalisation such as the United Nations, hampering their involvement in the region.
- Through the arms trade Iran is also establishing an economic base from which they can strengthen their regional power.
As of 2017 Iran has spent an estimated #30 billion dollars in Syria. This extends beyond direct military aid. Syria has undergone massive infrastructural damage, this includes the destruction of highways, train lines,ports, airports, housing, educational facilities, and health facilities. Much of Iran’s economic contributions are directed toward rebuilding these damaged areas of infrastructure.
However, these reconstructions efforts extend beyond simply rebuilding what was damaged. Iran also seeks to reshape it. Current estimates say that Iran is exporting $150 million worth of resources to Syrian. Iranian companies have also won deals with Syria making them providers of tractors,mining phosphates, electrical networks, and sugar. The message of these investments is clear: Syrian is not just an ally of Iran, it is going to be an economic extension. With economic ties in place Iran would be in a place where they could conceivably consolidate their growth across the Middle-East.
Iran shows no signs of stopping their advances. At present they have already committed 70,000 troops, who operate out of eleven bases across Syria, to the conflict and that number is set to increase. The Assad regime already depends heavily on Iranian economic support, and that too is set to increase with Iran allowing Syria to take out loans upwards of $1 billion.
The end goal is clear. Iran doesn’t want Syria on their side, they want Syria to be theirs for keeps.