Iranian Great Game in Syria: Strategy and Interests

04 Giugno 2018

Another important actor in the Syrian crisis, it can only be Iran.

The Tehran-Damascus alliance

The alliance between Iran and Syria is a historical constant. A strategic axis since 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution.It is a privileged relationship that revolves around three factors: hostility towards Israel, the counter-balancing of Western influence in the Middle East and the containment of revanchist Sunnism.

The role of Iran has long been deepened in relations with Syria. In 1980, Syria was the only Arab country to line up with Tehran in the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, providing them with weapons and materials, ground-to-air missiles and anti-tank rockets, also empowering Iranian aviation pilots to land in Syrian bases in case of emergency. Last but not least, he trained groups of Kurdish-Iraqi dissidents.In return, he received oil at bargain prices and, later, know-how for the chemical weapons program. History teaches that the Damascus-Tehran axis is very similar to an iron pact. Difficult to crack in the future.

In the Syrian crisis, the spheres of influence and geographical maps are redrawn. In an increasingly probable partition of Syria into spheres of influence, Iranian projects are far-sighted. And Teheran is investing his best brains there. Otherwise the continued presence on the front of Major General Qassem Suleimani, number one of the Quds forces would not be explained otherwise. The man responds directly to the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ali Khamenei.

It is often very early to galvanize Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani Shia militias and the ubiquitous Hezbollah, which has lost a third of its men in the fighting in recent years.

Iranian aid to Syria

But what is actually the Iranian contribution to Syria? Since 2011, Teheran immediately went to the aid of the Syrian ally, put in trouble by the first internal sediments. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK) already had listening and interception centers in the north-east of the country and near the Golan. He monitored the situation in the framework of the mutual defense treaty with Syria, providing crucial help both in terms of public security and intelligence. When the situation plummeted, at the beginning of 2011, Mohammed Nasif Kheirbek, a man of the Assad clan and of national intelligence, offered himself as an intermediary with the Iranians.

He promoted the creation of a set of storage and arsenal warehouses at Latakia airport, where the Russians nowadays. The mission was successful, because the industrial complex of the IEI (Iranian Electronic Industry), a defense contractor, immediately activated, transferring precious materials to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate: from radio-frequency disturbers to field jammers, for a value of no less at 3 million dollars.

The IEI is also active in the space field, so much to produce the series of observation satellites Fajr (50 kg), one of which launched two years ago.

Iranian experts began shuttling with Damascus to form anti-rebellion units and provide surveillance know-how for telephone and computer networks.

There is a kind of general rule in the Iranian organization, because usually the Ministry of Intelligence and Security provides information, logistical support and transmissions; the pasdaran do the work on the “field” and the Quds forces deals with the most daring and violent operations. The Revolutionary Guardians have a long experience of counter-insurgency operations.

The most experienced men, from the hottest provinces of the country, have been sent to the Assad court. When Damascus began to lose ground to the north and east, in the summer of 2012, Teheran punctuated its defenses in the central and southern reduced.

He helped Assad train new military units and train the old ones.

Between 2011 and 2012, Iran has also started the formation of groups of Shiite militia, with a twofold aim: to balance the disintegration of the Syrian military apparatus, strengthening its mass of maneuver, and guaranteeing a stable force in the event of overthrow of the Assad regime. According to some US experts, the National Defense Force (Syrian military group organized by the government of President Bashar al-Assad) was wanted and trained by members of the Pasdaran and Hezbollah. It is about 50-70,000 men, mainly Shiite Syrians and Alatiti.

It even pays wages, which range from 100 to 160 dollars per month, depending on the grade. He also mobilized former Iraqi Shiite militiamen and formed the Abu Fadl al-Abbas brigade first, followed by several others.

Even the notorious Hezbollah brigades in Iraq, the fighters of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq and the irregulars of the Badr militia passed to action, receiving orders, weapons and equipment from Tehran, which guaranteed the regime motivated men and an indispensable logistic support, by air. The Pasdaran have also recruited new fighters among Afghan refugees in Iran.

The operation was so successful that already in mid-2014, an entire “Afghan” brigade was reported in Syria, with a core of 2,500-4,000 men, also foraged with Iranian salaries of 500 dollars a month. Many militiamen today are proud to fight for the pasdaran or the Lebanese Hezbollah, rather than for Assad.

Hezbollah in Syria

It is not clear how many Lebanese Shiite militiamen are in the theater: estimates range from 2,000 to 4,000, including reservists. Which would equate to about a quarter of the movement’s availability. Each zone of Hezbollah operations has an independent command. The operatives would act within multinational units, including pasdaran, members of the Quds force and other militia, coordinated with the regime’s regular units and the Russian advisers. But there is an exception, along the Lebanese border, where Hezbollah responds to no one and moves independently, not so much to protect the Shiite populations, but rather to preserve the transit corridors of Iranian weapons.

Since 2000 at least, the Pasdaran have used the Syrian platform for arms transfers to Hezbollah. With the ongoing conflict, the air route has become the safest and has supplanted the land and sea routes. Commercial companies also collaborate in the “air bridge”: Iran Air, Mahan Air and Yas Air transport fighters, ammunition, rockets, cannons and anti-aircraft.

Iranian military aid in Syria

In the hundreds and so of commercial aircraft, military cargo is added: at least 3 Antonov An-74 and 2 Ilyushin Il-76. The traffic is intense. Teheran brings replacement parts for the T-72 MBTs, Falaq-2 rockets, Fateh-110 missiles, 120 mm howitzers, 107 mm rocket launchers, jeeps and other vehicles into Syria. Iranian technicians also contributed to the realization of the chlorine bombs, repeatedly used by the regime loyalists.

Thanks to videos on Youtube, we have seen Iranian drones repeatedly fly over Idlib, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo: reconnaissance UAVs like the Mohajer 4, the Ababil-2, the Mirsad-1, the Shahed 129 and the Yasir. Most of the funds for the maintenance of the Syrian air fleet in Russia also come from Teheran. A mix of aid that is added to Russian support.


Since December 2013, Syrian sources have said that Iran’s commitment to the Syrian conflict has cost at least six billion US dollars each year, while other Western sources assume even double financial support.

It is probable, according to multiple sources, that the most relevant clashes in Syria will cease at the end of this year 2018. The small clashes between the various ethnic groups and therefore among their external referents will probably not end yet. but the bulk of armed actions will certainly cease, now the areas of influence have stabilized. The first thing that stands out is that, despite everything, the forces of Bashar al-Assad have won.

Of course, neither Assad nor Russia alone has the strength to rebuild the country.The game will be really hard when it comes to the time of reconstruction. The most important future lever of external influence will once again be the Syrian Arab Republic.

Russia and Iran already hold the majority of reconstruction contracts, while they will acquire the vast majority of the public sector, to repay the military expenses they incurred to maintain the Assad regime.The World Bank estimates the cost of reconstruction to 250 billion. Other evaluations, less optimistic, but more realistic, think that the Syrian national reconstruction reaches up to 400 and even 600 billion US dollars.

Six years after the outbreak of the conflict, in 2011, the great diaspora of Syrian businessmen met in Germany at the end of February 2017. From there the Siba, Syrian International Business Association was founded.

With regard to the great Syrian reconstruction, Russian, Iranian and Chinese governments are already active and have already secured the largest contracts in the sectors of hydrocarbons, minerals, telecommunications, real estate construction and electricity grids.

Returning to Iran, and to the reconstruction phase of Syria, Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian armed forces announced his intention to build a naval base on Syrian territory. This is to control the sea in front of Lebanon, creating a further cause for concern for neighboring Israel and beyond. The idea of ​​an Iranian presence at a strategic point like the adjacent waters Beirut might not like Putin, which has its own base at Tartus, a true Russian outpost in the Mediterranean.

Other sources close to Ayatollah Khamenei, on the other hand, speak of a possible base, even submarine, in an even more western area, between Cyprus or some Greek islands of the Dodecanese. In both cases the immediate effect would be a rise in tension throughout the Middle East area.

Iran has never hidden on the other hand that its goal, with its participation in the war in Syria, is to dominate the region on the border with Israel to better keep the Jewish state in check.Now one last consideration: the development of the Iranian missile program. The increase in funds for the last year program confirm the willingness of the Iranian establishment to pursue the consolidation of missile capacity. Several military analysts judge Tehran’s most complete and advanced ballistic arsenal in the region. In addition to the variety of short and medium-range missiles, which guarantee an important defense system for the country, and increase the deterrence capacity on the Strait of Hormoz, in September 2017 Iran tested a missile named Khorranshahr, an Iranian version North Korean Hwasong-10, with a range of over 2000 kilometers, proving to be able to hit the main enemies in the region: Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Pubblicato in collaborazione con il Centro Studi