Assad’s war against the Syrian rebels is going from bad to worse: A series of critical losses against the rebels and dwindling coffers have weakened Assad to a point where some believe that his days as ruler in Damascus are numbered.
so he naturally called on his closest ally, for help and 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria with another 35,000 to be deployed in the very near future.
Iran’s increasing involvement in Assad’s civil war should light some serious warning signs and the main question remains what exactly will Tehran expect in return.
Up until now…
For a while, Tehran was content to support Assad politically and financially while downplaying its military aid in the civil war raging in Syria. It seemed, outwardly, satisfied to let its Hezbollah militia to spearhead the fight against the Syrian rebels while supporting the militia with IRGC “advisers” and “Afghan volunteers“. Although there were rumors that some of the casualties were Iranian troops, Tehran stuck to denials: Tehran supported Assad but Iranian troops were not involved in the battles and Assad himself joined in these denials.
At the same time, Iranian leaders such as Zarif and Larijani continued to warn foreign powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict and to let the Syrians deal with the civil war by themselves. Whenever talks of foreign involvement by the West or the UN arose, these same leaders would cry “foul” and call these efforts “meddling” while accusing “the West” of being responsible for the civil war in Syria, the birth of ISIS, the rise in extremism etc…
From bad to worse
Last week, Hezbollah requested Iran “send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently”. Qods leader Suleimani wasn’t far behind and announced that “the world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days” and sure enough, word has leaked out that 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria.
What is not surprising is that numerous Iranian officials, including Rouhani, Zarif and Larijani reiterated over the past few days support for Assad. Rouhani ominously vowed to support Syria “until the end of the road” adding that Tehran has “not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria“.
Many questions arise
- Is Iran’s involvement in Assad’s civil war legitimate? Iran and Syria signed a military agreement endowing both sides to aid each other in case of war. But in this case, Syria is not fighting a war against another country. Tehran argues that the rebels are supported by foreign powers, namely Saudi Arabia, which gives it the right to aid its ally. This is a classic case of the “chicken and the egg” since the Saudis stated that their support of the rebels is in response to Iran’s support of Assad (echoes the situation in Yemen in which the Saudis are bombing the Houthi rebels who managed to overthrow the Yemeni government with the aid of Tehran).
- Does this involvement reflect the will of the Iranian people? Tehran’s decision to finance a civil war in Syria (estimated at $10 billion) comes at a time when the Iranian economy is still weak. Zarif said that “the government of Iran follows the people not the other way around” but does the Iranian people support such an escalation of Iran’s involvement in Syria? Are the Iranian people ready to kill and fight for Assad? Nobody knows because nobody asked the people.
- What does Iran expect in return from Assad? Trade, an obvious reason, can not be a reasonable option since Syria’s economy is shaterred. Some might argue that Tehran’s increased involvement reflects its fears of ISIS and other militia hostile towards Iran and or Shiites. Others believe that Syria is destined to be part of Iran’s aspirations for an empire that will include Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for now.
Whatever the case may be, Tehran’s increased support in Syria will not be overlooked by the regional powers nor the UN. If Assad is destined to fall in his civil war, Iran’s intrusion can only escalate the involvement of other regional powers in the area, namely Turkey and Saudi Arabia.