Iran–Syria relations

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Iran-Syria relations
Map indicating locations of Iran and Syria

Iran

Syria
Iranian pilgrims in Damascus

Syria and Iran are strategic allies. Syria is usually called Iran's "closest ally",[1] ideological conflict between the Arab nationalism ideology of Syria's secular ruling Baath party and the Islamic Republic of Iran's pan-Islamist policy notwithstanding. Iran and Syria have had a strategic alliance ever since the Iran–Iraq War, when Syria sided with non-Arab Iran against its fellow Baath-ruled neighbor but enemy Iraq and was isolated by some Arab countries.[2] The two countries shared a common animosity towards the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and coordination against the United States and Israel. Syria cooperates with Iran in smuggling arms to the Hezbollah in Lebanon, since Israel has attacked Syria.[3] During the Syrian Civil war Iran has conducted "an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power."[4]

Overview[edit]

1979–1990[edit]

Iran–Syria relations changed dramatically after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Syria's strategic alliance with Egypt ended around the same time due to Egypt's treaty with Israel. Post-Revolution Iran represented an opportunity for Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to find a new counterweight to Israel and Iraq, Syria's regional foes.[5] Meanwhile, new Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini saw Syria as a conduit to the Shia community in Lebanon. Mostafa Chamran, a close adviser to Khomeini, had experience fighting in Lebanon and advocated an Iranian alliance with Assad to increase their influence in southern Lebanon.[6]

The relationship between Iranian and Syrian governments has sometimes been described as the Axis of Resistance.[7] Syria was the first Arab state and the third in general, after the Soviet Union and Pakistan, to recognize the Islamic Republic that was founded in February 1979.[7] Specifically Syria officially recognized the Islamic Republic on 12 February 1979.[8] However, Assad did not visit Iran while Khomenei was alive, as the Ayatollah did not consider Assad to be a true Muslim.[7] The Syrian leadership, including the current President Bashar Assad himself, belongs predominantly to the Alawite branch of Shi'a Islam. However, the relations between two countries do not depend on religious causes, because Syria is a secular state, while Iran is an Islamic republic.[7] Instead, their ties are driven by common political and strategic points.[7]

One of the first major fronts of the Iran–Syria alliance was Iraq. During the Iran–Iraq War, Syria sided with non-Arab Iran against Iraq and was isolated by Saudi Arabia and some of the Arab countries, with the exceptions of Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Oman.[2] As one of Iran's few Arab allies during the war, Syria shut down Iraqi oil pipelines to deprive the Iraqis of revenue. Syria also trained Iranians in missile technology and provided Iran with Scud B missiles between 1986 and 1988.[9] In return for Syria's war support, Iran provided Syria with millions of free and discounted barrels of oil throughout the 1980s. In addition, Khomeini was restrained in his condemnation of the 1982 Hama massacre.[10]

The second major area of cooperation between the two countries was in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, with Syrian assistance, established and trained the Hezbollah group to spread Khomeini's ideology and repel the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. Iran and Syria viewed Hezbollah as a useful lever against Israel and a way to establish greater influence in Lebanese affairs.[11]

Iran and Syria had occasional differences in policy. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Syria maintained support for the non-Islamist Shia Amal Movement in Lebanon, even as Iran tried to maximize Hezbollah's power among Lebanese Shia.[2] Although Iran was deeply ambivalent about the American-led intervention to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait,[12] Syria participated in the coalition of nations to fight Iraq. Still, these disagreements never threatened to derail the relationship.[13]

1990s–2000s[edit]

The alliance deepened in 2000 when Hafez's son Bashar al-Assad took over as President of Syria. Subsequent events like the Iraq War, the "Cedar Revolution", and the 2006 Lebanon War brought the countries closer together. Syria became increasingly dependent on Iran for political and military support as Assad was unable to maintain positive ties with other Arab powers during this time.[14]

On 16 June 2006 the defense ministers of Iran and Syria signed an agreement for military cooperation against what they called the "common threats" presented by Israel and the United States. Details of the agreement were not specified, however then Syrian defense minister Najjar said "Iran considers Syria's security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria." The visit also resulted in the sale of Iranian military hardware to Syria.[15] In addition to receiving military hardware, Iran has consistently invested billions of dollars into the Syrian economy.[16]

Currently, Iran is involved in implementing several industrial projects in Syria, including cement factories, car assembly lines, power plants, and silo construction. Iran also plans to set up a joint Iranian–Syrian bank in the future.[17] On 17 February 2007, Presidents Ahmadinejad and Assad met in Tehran. Ahmadinejad afterwards declared that they would form an alliance to combat U.S. and Israeli conspiracies against the Islamic world.[18]

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani stated on 3 August 2013, his inauguration day, that Iran's alliance with Syria would continue.[19]

Syrian civil war[edit]

During the 2011 Syrian uprising, Iran has aided the Syrian government. The Guardian has claimed that in May the Iranian Republican Guard increased its "level of technical support and personnel support" to strengthen Syria's "ability to deal with protesters," according to one diplomat in Damascus.[20] Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati declared, "Iran is not prepared to lose this golden counterweight [to Israel]."[21]

Iran reportedly assisted the Syrian government sending it riot control equipment, intelligence monitoring techniques and oil.[22] It also agreed to fund a large military base at Latakia airport.[22] The Daily Telegraph claimed in August 2011 that a former member of Syria's secret police reported "Iranian snipers" had been deployed in Syria to assist in the crackdown on protests.[23] According to the U.S. government, Mohsen Chizari, the Quds Force's third-in-command, visited Syria to train security services to fight against the protestors.[24]

In late June 2011, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, stated in regards to the uprising: "In Syria, the hand of America and Israel is evident;" and in regards to the Assad regime: "Wherever a movement is Islamic, populist, and anti-American, we support it." Other Iranian officials have made similar pronouncements identifying the U.S. government as the origin of the uprising.[24] However, in late August, the Iranian government gave its "first public sign" of concern over Syrian's handling of its crisis when foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi issued a statement including the Syrian government in the list of states he urged to "answer to the demands of its people."[25]

Syrian dissident and academic Murhaf Jouejati argues that Iran's contingency plan for its interests in Syria, in case the current pro-Iran regime is overthrown, is to ethnically fragment the country in such a way that Iran could support an independent Alawite state.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands| By NADA BAKRI| nytimes.com| 2011 August 8
  2. ^ a b c Goodarzi, Jubin. "Iran and Syria". The Iran Primer. U.S. Institute of Peace. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Russia Today". Welt.de. 16 February 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Fulton, Will. "Iranian Strategy in Syria". May 2013. A joint Report by AEI’s critical threats project & Institute for the Study of War. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Milani, Mohsen (Fall 2013). "Why Tehran Won't Abandon Assad(ism)". The Washington Quarterly 36 (4): 79. doi:10.1080/0163660x.2013.861715. 
  6. ^ Milani, p. 80.
  7. ^ a b c d e Goodarzi, Jubin M. (January 2013). "Syria and Iran: Alliance Cooperation in a Changing Regional Environment". Middle East Studies 4 (2): 31–59. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  8. ^ Wallsh, David (Summer 2013). "Syrian Alliance Strategy in the Post-Cold War Era: The Impact of Unipolarity". The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 37 (2). Retrieved 11 September 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  9. ^ Milani, pp. 80–81.
  10. ^ Milani, p. 80.
  11. ^ Milani, p. 81.
  12. ^ Takeyh, Ray (2009-04-28). Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs. Oxford University Press. pp. 134–136. ISBN 9780199793136. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  13. ^ Milani, p. 82.
  14. ^ Milani, p. 82.
  15. ^ Iran and Syria sign pact against 'common threats'
  16. ^ Swaminathan, Satya (Spring 2007). "Syria's Diplomatic History with Iran". Global Forum Journal 3: 28. 
  17. ^ "No Operation". PressTV. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  18. ^ Stern, Yoav (18 February 2007). "Iran, Syria vow united front to thwart U.S. and Israel". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 May 2013. 
  19. ^ "Syria alliance will 'stay strong'". Gulf News. AFP. 4 August 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  20. ^ "Iran helping Syrian regime crack down on protesters, say diplomats", Simon Tisdall and foreign staff in Damascus The Guardian, 9 May 2011
  21. ^ Fulton, Will (6 May 2013). "How Deeply is Iran Enmeshed in Syria?". U.S. Institute of Peace. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Iran agrees to fund Syrian military base The Telegraph, Con Coughlin, 12 August 2011
  23. ^ "Iran sees support for Syria essential to fend off U.S., Israeli 'wolves'" Rob Crilly and Robin Pomeroy, The Daily Telegraph and Reuters, 16 August 2011
  24. ^ a b "How Iran Keeps Assad in Power in Syria" Geneive Abdo, 29 August 2011
  25. ^ "Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens' Demands" The New York Times, Nada Bakri, 27 August 2011
  26. ^ Cengiz, Sinem (1 April 2013). "Iran's Plan B in post-Assad Syria to create Alawite state". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 

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