Iranian-Syrian alliance: Robust military moves

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Soon after Washington announced on Thursday that it will provide military support to Syria’s rebels, following a statement by U.S. officials that they have “high confidence” that Bashar al-Assad’s regime had utilized chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have made a robust military decision to send 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Damascus. This support is intended to suppress the largely Sunni oppositional groups and rebellion, as well as to strengthen Assad’s Alawite sect-based and police state. According to reports by the United Nations Human Rights Watch, in just over two years, the Syrian conflict has now claimed nearly 100,000 lives.

Without doubt, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been implicitly and covertly delivering military, intelligence, financial, security and advisory assistance to Assad and his apparatuses for the last two years ever since the popular uprising first erupted in various cities of Syria. However, this public commitment to send 4,000 highly-trained and professional Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps sends firm indications that the Iranian-Syrian alliance has entered into a new and distinct phase.

First of all, this military decision by Iranian leaders sends a strong message to regional state actors – including the Arab Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar – the Syrian rebels and oppositional groups, as well as to the international superpowers, particularly, the United States, the European Union, and other Western allies. The message conveyed is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is politically, financially, and militarily committed to keep Assad’s Alawite sect-based and police state in power; if any country or group sends arms to the Syrian rebels, Tehran will immediately rebuttal these efforts back by sending more troops and more advanced weaponry and arms to the Syrian regime.

In other words, from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, after making the decision to commit to Assad’s regime by sending such a significant number of troops to Damascus, if any country or groups fights against the Syrian regime, they are also in fact indirectly fighting against the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, Iranian leaders will take necessary further actions against those countries and groups.

If the West adopted legitimate military threats against Assad, Iran would have been more cautious about making such an overt military decision to publicly bolster their arms delivery to Assad’s regime.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Secondly, the Islamic Republic of Iran is sending formidable signals to the Syrian oppositional groups and rebels that they are not only fighting Assad’s tanks, snipers, Mukhabarat, and army, but now also facing two other powerful enemies: the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. This will further influence the morale of the Syrian rebels and oppositional groups, particularly at a time when they are still not operating under a single command-and-control system and are still not fully united under one leadership. As a result, Iran’s military decision to send troops and advanced weaponry and arms to Damascus, along with Hezbollah’s public support of Assad’s regime, has emboldened Assad to push for more territorial victory. This recent regional support has given a strong momentum to the Syrian army, and also slightly tipped the balance of power against the Syrian rebels and in favor of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ruling Shiite cleric.

Thirdly, this decision also signifies that Iran is leading the Syrian conflict into broader regional and sectarian dimensions and tensions. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a predominantly Shiite Muslim country with Hezbollah as its Shiite proxy, have publicly asserted themselves as a staunch and formidable ally of Assad’ Alawite regime; the Alawite sect, which Assad belongs to, is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Essentially, Iranian leaders are projecting their willingness to fight the Syrian rebels, who are from the Sunni majority, in order to retain its Shiite and ideological influence in the region.

In addition, it is crucial to point out that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps take orders directly from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. This powerful institution strictly follows the hardline principles of the Supreme Leader, indicating that even if Iran’s next president, the centrist Hassan Rouhani, desired to alter Tehran’s military, intelligence, and financial support to Syria, he will not be capable of taking such action. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy towards Syria is directly guided by the Supreme Leader and his establishments. In addition, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been very clear about his intentions; his narrative towards Syria suggests that the regime has been targeted by terrorists and U.S. and Israeli-backed groups rather than popular uprisings or an “Islamic Awakening” that he used for characterizing other Arab countries that went through revolutions at the same time.

Finally, the recent bold military decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran reveals that Iranian leaders have been emboldened by the inability and indecisiveness of the United States and her Western allies to take serious actions against Assad’s regime. If the West adopted legitimate military threats against Assad, such as serious military contingency acts or no-fly zones, the Islamic Republic of Iran would have been more cautious about making such an overt military decision to publicly bolster their arms delivery to Assad’s regime.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American scholar, is author, leading and award-winning scholar, Middle East expert, and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. Rafizadeh is a frequent guest and political analyst on international and U.S. news shows including CNN, BBC, Foxnews, ABC, Aljazeera, France 24 English International, NBC, Russian TV, CTV, CCTV, Skynews, to name a few. His work regularly appears on national and international outlets, in prints or online, including The New York Times, New York Times International, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, Foreign Policy Magazine, Al-Jazeera, The Nation, and The Huffington Post, to name a few.

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