Iran’s role in Syria

Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, directors of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, interviewed by IranWire:

How does the Syrian opposition interpret Iran’s involvement in Syria?

Nader Hashemi: The Syrian opposition understandably views Iran as an enemy state, which is the biggest backer and sustainer of Assad’s criminal enterprise. The fingerprints of the Islamic Republic are all over the atrocities in Syria. The full story of Iran’s involvement in Syria has yet to be told. If we ever get to the point where there’s a full investigation, we’ll likely see that Iran’s involvement has been much larger and more significant than has been publicly admitted and reported. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Bashar al-Assad is hugely in debt to the Iranian regime for its survival, increasingly so as the conflict has gone on.

Danny Postel: The Hezbollah’s Syrian surge, for example, in 2013, was critical. It came at a time when Assad was very vulnerable, and that’s why Hezbollah was drawn in. And we now have reports of Iraqi fighters in Syria, which Iran has played a direct role in, and Afghan fighters.

Hashemi: There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago reporting that the Iranian government is paying a $500 bribe to Afghan Shia refugees in Iran to fight in Syria, which is quite revealing. This suggests that the Syrian regime does not have enough troops to do its fighting, and must rely on external forces to do its dirty work. It also suggests that the Assad regime is not as strong as it, and its backers, claim it to be. It does have a weakness in terms of fighters, otherwise why would you have thousands of Hezbollah troops doing some of the regime’s heavy lifting?

If you read the Iranian press, one month ago, the Iranian deputy foreign minister Amir Abdollahian was giving a talk at the University of Tehran where he admitted publicly that Assad was about to fall, and then Iran stepped up its involvement to save the regime. That most likely happened in late 2012 or early 2013, when it looked like the regime was on very shaky ground.

Iran is invested in supporting the Assad regime right till the end, and they’re doing it not for reasons of religious doctrine or political ideology. It’s pure realpolitik. The Iranian regime realizes that the survival of the Assad regime is central to Iran’s national security and defense doctrine — particularly with respect to Israel. If there’s a toppling of the Assad regime, Iran’s regional clout — specifically its access to Hezbollah — diminishes significantly. [Continue reading…]

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