Iran in Syria: A Complicated Relationship


The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic are long-standing strategic allies. In recent years the relationship between these two nations has led Iran to provide significant support in the form of technical, financial, combat training and even some ground troops for the Syrian government during the civil war.


Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations recently presented photographic evidence of an Iranian base outside Damascus that is likely being used to train tens of thousands of fighters for the militias it backs in Syria. Some estimates suggest that as many as 80,000 extremists operate under the control of the Iranian government in the country.


In addition to their long-standing allegiance, – Syria has been Iran’s most consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic revolution – Iran views Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as a vital partner to its interests in the region. The like-mindedness of the governments and the country’s proximity to Israel are the two most likely reasons for Iranian’s active presence during the war.


The Syrian city of Zabadani has historically served as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s central station for supplying Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. Before the Syrian civil war, Iran had as many as 3,000 IRGC officers based in Syria to train local troops, manage supply routes and provide financial support in Lebanon.


Since the beginning of the civil war, there were reports that Iran provided training for the National Defense Forces in Syria. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, led by Mark Dubowitz, has briefed members of Congress, and State Department officials on research suggesting Iran flew secret resupply flights to help Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. Click here for more info.


While many Western nations are concerned about the consequences of an Iranian backed Syria no one is more openly opposed to the idea than Syria’s Southwestern neighbor, Israel. Iran has made its hostile intentions against Israel clear for a long time, and there’s no doubt that the shared border between Syria and Israel gives the country cause for alarm. Enough so, that US satellites, surveillance aircraft, and drones have increased efforts to track suspected Iranian troops and ballistic missiles inside Syria due to the heightened threat that they might attempt a strike against Israel soon.


The Israeli government has made it clear that they will prevent Iran from establishing a military stronghold in Syria by force if need be. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned: “We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily.” The US agrees that Iranian weapons inside Syria could threaten Israel directly, but many are concerned a preventive strike could result in a counter-strike by Iranian forces and send both countries down a path to war.