In Syria, Iran is working extensively and spending heavily on choreographed efforts meant to minimize the possibility of president Bashar al-Saad falling from power any time soon. In addition, the state is simultaneously preparing favorable grounds in Syria to retain its ability to harness the resources and spaces available there and realize its regional goals should Assad leave office.
The Iranian security agencies and intelligence units are currently advising the Syrian armed forces regarding how to keep Bashar al-Saad in office. The evolution of these Iranian efforts has now taken the form of an expeditionary training force spearheaded by several units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). That Iran has deployed the IRGC’s Ground Forces to war overseas is a clear indicator of how willing and capable the country has become to project its military might outside its borders.
Iran has also been sending aircraft to deliver stockpiles of weapons to Syria. Syria needs that sort of assistance with several resupply roads connecting Damascus and Baghdad unavailable as militia gain significant ground. The military hardware delivered has injected appreciable impetus into the Syrian forces, helping them win numerous encounters with militia.
Likewise, shabiha troops have also been getting help from Iran to fight in support of Assad. To some extent, Tehran is doing this to gain a hedged position in case of Asaad’s fall or the shrinking of the government’s grip to just Damascus and the coastal enclave of Alawite. Should that come to pass, the militias will appreciate Tehran’s help, and Iran will retain the ability to exercise its military power and operate from inside Syria.
There are other military missions in Syria with interests and strategies aligned to Iranian operations. For instance in 2012, Hezbollah from Lebanon got actively involved in the Syrian conflict once anti-government militia started gaining ground in the country. This organization has helped sustain Asaad through its well-drilled military wing, whose activities in Syria mirror the strategic objectives of Tehran.
Evidently, circumstances beyond the control of Iran have meant that the country’s influence over Syria is constrained. Additiionally, it’s highly unlikely that Tehran will retain its current capacity to showcase military power in the event that the war ends and Asaad loses power. Nevertheless, Tehran is continuously implementing counter-measures to ascertain that any eventual defeat of the Syrian government does not interfere Iran’s strategic regional objectives. This strategy borders on the use of certain Syrian territories under the control of pro-regime or pro-Tehran groups after the fall of Assad, assuming that rebels will fail to set up full control over the entire country.