Syria and Iran are strategic allies. Syria is often called Iran's "closest ally", 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. 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 Hisbollah in Lebanon, since Israel has attacked Syria. During the Syrian Civil war Iran has conducted "an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power."
The relationship between Iranian and Syrian governments has sometimes been described as the Axis of Resistance that was formed following the Iranian revolution in 1979. 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. Specifically Syria officially recognized the Islamic Republic on 12 February 1979. However, Hafez Assad, the former Syrian president, did not visit Iran while Ayatollah Khomenei was alive, as the Ayatollah did not consider Assad to be a true Muslim. 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. Instead, their ties are driven by common political and strategic points.
During the Iran–Iraq War, Syria sided with non-Arab Iran against its enemy Iraq and was isolated by Saudi Arabia and some of the Arab countries, with the exceptions of Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Oman. On 16 June 2006 the defence 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. In addition to receiving military hardware, Iran has consistently invested billions of dollars into the Syrian economy.
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. On 17 February 2007, Presidents Ahmadinejad and Assad met in Tehran. Ahmadinejad afterwards declared that they would form an alliance to combat US and Israeli conspiracies against the Islamic world.
Syrian civil war
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.
Iran reportedly assisted the Syrian government sending it riot control equipment, intelligence monitoring techniques and oil. It also agreed to fund a large military base at Latakia airport. 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. According to the US government, Mohsen Chizari, the Quds Force’s third-in-command, visited Syria to train security services to fight against the protestors.
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 US government as the origin of the uprising. 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.”
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- Iran helping Syrian regime crack down on protesters, say diplomats| Simon Tisdall and foreign staff in Damascus| The Guardian, 9 May 2011
- Iran agrees to fund Syrian military base| The Telegraph, Con Coughlin, 12 August 2011
- 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
- How Iran Keeps Assad in Power in Syria| Geneive Abdo| 29 August 2011
- Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands| The New York Times, Nada Bakri, 27 August 2011
- The Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region: Hearing before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session, July 31, 2013