Just as Russia and Syria have a long rich history as allies, so do Iran and Syria. Iran shares similarities with the Russia-Syria relationship also. Such similarities include a hatred for American regime change in the Middle East and interests in Bassel al-Assad international airport. Syria’s Ba’ath Party is secular while Iran is an Islamic Republic. This difference, other than supporting the Shia population in Syria, makes their relationship one of a geopolitical nature.
Iran and Syria have shared a common enemy in Israel for decades. The dispute between Syria and Israel began in 1967 after Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel during the Six-Day War. Another common enemy is the United States of America. Syria became guarded against the U.S. due to concerns that the takeover of Iraq would be repeated in Syria. Iran’s hatred for America began in 1953, when on behalf of the United Kingdom, the United States led a coup known as “28 Mordad”, in order to overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh, as well as to regain a controlling interest in the Iranian oil supply. Both Iran and Syria would like to see the U.S. suffer for Middle East regime change, and neither nation minds spilling American blood. Another common bond is that neither nation has many allies.
Bashar al-Assad, like his father Hafez, are members of the Ba’ath Party and also an Alawite, which is a minority sect of Islam aligned with the Shiites. Iran supports the Shiites, and the Sunni Muslims despise the Alawis. To the displeasure of the Sunni leaders, Shiite leaders claim Damascus Alawis are part of the larger Shiite family. As with any family the credence created the long lasting alliance we see today shared by Iran and Syria.
Forming the Alliance
Iran-Syria relations began in 1946 when Syria gained its independence, which led to Iran establishing a consular office in Syria. Syria supported Iran’s United Nations Council Resolution 316, which was a motion calling for Israel to release five Syrian officers that were captured in Lebanon. On June 26,1972, the motion was adopted and the UN condemned Israels “deploring acts of violence”. In 1975, President Hafez al-Assad traveled to Tehran to sign “cooperation agreements” with Iran. By the late 1970’s Iran-Iraq relations had improved and President al-Assad took to training Iranian guerillas. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution that led to the ousting of the American appointed Shah of Iran, Iran-Syria relations became stronger than ever before. Due to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which was signed on March 26, 1979, in a ceremony at the White House, the Syrian-Egyptian alliance ended. The splitting of their alliance led to Iran and Syria creating a counter punch to Israel and Iraq which were enemies of Syria.
Common denominators bonded in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon. Until then Syria did not particularly trust revolutionary Islam. After the ousting of the Shah leader of the Iranian Shia Muslims and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran on February 1, 1979, after 14 years in political exile. On February 12, 1979, Syria officially recognized the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini saw Syria as a channel to the Shia population in Lebanon. In order to solidify Iran’s influence in Southern Lebanon, Khomeini’s advisor Mostafa Chamron advocated for an alliance with Hafez al-Assad. Khomeini never recognized Hafez as a true muslim so he did not visit Tehran until the death of Khomeini on June 3, 1989.
The fact that Syria is a secular state and Iran is an Islamic Republic, their relationship is based on ubiquitous political and strategic elements. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Iran cultivated Hezbollah with money and ideological guidance, as well as training. Hezbollah has been used to cast the perception across the globe as protectors of Islam. The tactic has proved to be beneficial to Syria. For instance, the opposing force of the Hezbollah proxy forced Israel to the negotiating table. With the backing of Syria Hezbollah became the dominant threat posed against Israeli invasions.
The Modern Day Relationship
In 2006 after Iran and Syria signed an agreement against the common threats posed by the U.S. and Israel. Iranian defense minister Najjar said in reference to the agreement, Iran considers Syria’s security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria.” The agreement was followed by Iran investing billions of dollars in the Syrian economy, and by providing Iranian military weapons. On February 17, 2017, former Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Assad met, resulting in an alliance against the United States and Israel to combat conspiracies against the Islamic world. There were also talks of creating an Iranian-Syrian bank. Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that the alliance with Syria would continue.
Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei stated, “Whenever a movement is Islamic, populist, and anti-American, we support it.” However, Iran has expressed concern over how Syria is handling its civil war. The Iranian government through foreign minister Ali Akhar Salehi released a statement saying, “Syria should answer to the demands of its people.” To this day the trust is so strong between the two nations that, following the 2017 Terror Attacks carried out by ISIL in Iran, Iran was allowed to launch missiles into Syria as a retaliatory targeting of ISIS fighters.
Thus far I have discussed the roles of the United States, Russia, and Iran in the Syrian Civil War. There is still one more major player in the conflict, and may be the most important player. That player is none other than ISIS. Much confusion has been made about who supports ISIS in Syria. For the Syrian Civil War series, the next installment will discuss the role that the ISIS proxy plays in the Syrian Civil War, as well as who actually supports them and why.