Iranian support for Syria in the Syrian Civil War

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Iran and Syria are close strategic allies, and Iran has provided significant support for Syrian Government in the Syrian Civil War, including logistical, technical and financial support, as well as training and some combat troops.

Iran sees the survival of the Syrian government as being crucial to its regional interests.[1][2] Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was reported in September 2011 to be vocally in favor of the Syrian government.[3]

In the civil uprising phase of the Syrian civil war, Iran was said to be providing Syria with technical support based on Iran's capabilities developed following the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests.[3] As the uprising developed into the Syrian civil war, there were increasing reports of Iranian military support, and of Iranian training of NDF (National Defence Forces) both in Syria, and in Iran.[4]

Iranian security and intelligence services are advising and assisting the Syrian military in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad's hold on power.[1] Those efforts include training, technical support, combat troops.[1][5] By December 2013 Iran was thought to have approximately 10,000 operatives in Syria.[2] But according to Jubin Goodarzi, assistant professor and researcher of Webster University, Iran aided the Assad regime with a limited number of deployed units and personnel, "at most in the hundreds ... and not in the thousands as opposition sources claimed".[6] Lebanese Hezbollah fighters backed by Tehran have taken direct combat roles since 2012.[2][7] In the summer of 2013, Iran and Hezbollah provided important battlefield support for Assad, allowing it to make advances on the opposition.[7]

In 2014, coinciding with the peace talks at Geneva II, Iran has stepped up support for Syrian President Assad.[2][7] Syrian Minister of Finance and Economy announced that the "Iranian government has given more than 15 billion dollars" to Syria.[8]


Iran sees the survival of the Syrian government as being crucial to its interest. Its only consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Syria provides a crucial thoroughfare to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iranian leaders have cited Syria as being Iran's "35th province", with President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority led government being a crucial buffer against the influence of Saudi Arabia and the United States.[2]

The Syrian city of Zabadani is vitally important to Assad and to Iran because, at least as late as June 2011, the city served as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's logistical hub for supplying Hezbollah.[9] Prior to the Syrian war, Iran had between 2,000 and 3,000 IRGC officers stationed in Syria, helping to train local troops and managing supply routes of arms and money to neighboring Lebanon.[2]

In April 2014, Hossein Amir-Abdolahian, Iranian deputy foreign minister said We aren’t seeking to have Bashar Assad remain president for life. But we do not subscribe to the idea of using extremist forces and terrorism to topple Assad and the Syrian government.[10]


In the civil uprising phase of the Syrian civil war, Iran was said to be providing Syria with technical support based on Iran's capabilities developed following the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests.[3]

In April 2011 U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice accused Iran of secretly aiding Assad in his efforts to quell the protests,[11] and there were reports of Syrian protesters hearing security-force members speaking Persian.[12]

The Guardian reported in May 2011 that the Iranian government was assisting the Syrian government with riot control equipment and intelligence monitoring techniques.[13] According to US journalist Geneive Abdo writing in September 2011, the Iranian government provided the Syrian government with technology to monitor e-mail, cell phones and social media. Iran developed these capabilities in the wake of the 2009 protests and spent millions of dollars establishing a "cyber army" to track down dissidents online. Iran's monitoring technology is believed to be among the most sophisticated in the world, perhaps only second to China.[3]


In May 2012, in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency which was later removed from its website, the deputy head of Iran's Quds Force said that it had provided combat troops to support Syrian military operations.[14] It was alleged by the Western media that Iran also trained fighters from Hezbollah, a Shia militant group based in Lebanon.[15] Iraq, located between Syria and Iran, was criticized by the U.S. for allowing Iran to ship military supplies to Assad over Iraqi airspace.[16]

The Economist said that Iran had, by February 2012, sent the Syrian government $9 billion to help it withstand Western sanctions.[5] It has also shipped fuel to the country and sent two warships to a Syrian port in a display of power and support.[17]

In March 2012, anonymous U.S. intelligence officials claimed a spike in Iranian-supplied arms and other aid for the Syrian government. Iranian security officials also allegedly traveled to Damascus to help deliver this assistance. A second senior U.S. official said members of Iran's main intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, were assisting Syrian counterparts in charge of the crackdown.[18]

According to a U.N. panel in May 2012, Iran supplied the Syrian government with arms during the previous year despite a ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic. Turkish authorities captured crates and a truck in February 2012, including assault rifles, machine guns, explosives, detonators, 60mm and 120mm mortar shells as well as other items on its border. It was believed these were destined for the Syrian government. The confidential report leaked just hours after an article appeared in The Washington Post revealing how Syrian opposition fighters started to receive more, and better, weapons in an effort paid for by Persian Gulf Arab states and co-ordinated partly by the US.[19] The report investigated three large illegal shipments of Iranian weapons over the past year and stated "Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments. Two of these cases involved [Syria], as were the majority of cases inspected by the Panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers."[20] More anonymous sources were cited by the UN in May 2012, as it claimed arms were moving both ways between Lebanon and Syria, and alleged weapons brought in from Lebanon were being used to arm the opposition.[21] The alleged spike in Iranian arms was likely a response to a looming influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels from Gulf states that had been reported shortly before.[22]

On 24 July 2012, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp commander Massoud Jazayeri said Iranians would not allow enemy plans to change Syria's political system to succeed.[23]

In August 2012 Leon Panetta accused Iran of setting up a pro-Government militia to fight in Syria, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Martin Dempsey compared it to the Mahdi Army of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Panetta said that there was evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were attempting to "train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime".[24] 48 Iranians were captured by the FSA in Damascus, and U.S. officials said that the men who were captured were "active-duty Iranian Revolutionary Guard members".[25]

In September 2012, Western intelligence officials stated that Iran had sent 150 senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to preserve the Assad government, and had also sent hundreds of tons of military equipment (among them guns, rockets, and shells) to the Assad government via an air corridor that Syria and Iran jointly established. These officials believed that the intensification of Iranian support had led to increased effectiveness against the Free Syrian Army by the Assad government.[26]

According to rebel soldiers speaking in October 2012, Iranian Unmanned aerial vehicles had been used to guide Syrian military planes and gunners to bombard rebel positions. CNN reported that the UAV or drones—which the rebels refer to as "wizwayzi" were "easily visible from the ground and seen in video shot by rebel fighters".

Rebels have displayed captured aircraft they describe as Iranian-built drones — brightly colored, pilotless jets. They're accompanied by training manuals emblazoned with the image of Iran's revolutionary leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.[27]


In January 2013, a prisoner swap took place between the Syrian Rebels and the Syrian Government authorities. According to reports, 48 Iranians were released by the Rebels in exchange for nearly 2,130 prisoners held by the Syrian Government. Rebels claimed the captives were linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.[28]US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the Iranians as “members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” calling it “just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel, technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.”[29]

Iran reportedly decided in June 2013 to send 4,000 troops to aid the Syrian government forces, described as a "first contingent" by writer/reporter Robert Fisk of The Independent, who added that the move underscores a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East.[30] Iran was also reported to have proposed to open a new Syrian front against Israel in the Golan Heights, this coming a day after Egyptian President cut off diplomatic relations with Syria and demanded that Iran support for the pro Syrian-government Hezbollah end.[31] A Syrian official called the severing of relations by Morsi "irresponsible" and said it was part of a move by the U.S. and Israel to exacerbate divisions in the region.[32]

According to American officials questioned by journalist Dexter Filkins, officers from the Quds force have "coordinated attacks, trained militias, and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications" in Syria from late 2012 to 2013. With help from the Hezbollah, and under the leadership of Quds Force general Qassem Suleimani, the al-Assad government has won back strategic territory from rebels in 2013, in particular an important supply route during the Al-Qusayr offensive in April and May.[33]

In the fall of 2013 Iranian Brigadier General Mohammad Jamali-Paqaleh of the Revolutionary Guards was killed in Syria, reportedly while volunteering to defend a Shia shrine.[34] In February, General Hassan Shateri, also of the Revolutionary Guards, had been killed while travelling from Beirut to Damascus.[35]


Iran has stepped up support on the ground for Syrian President Assad, providing hundreds more military specialists to gather intelligence and train troops. This further backing from Tehran, along with deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow, is helping to keep Assad in power.[2][7] This surge of support was in part a decision strongly promoted by Qasem Suleimani, the head of the Quds force, to exploit the outbreak of infighting between rebel fighters and the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).[2]

Former Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said Iranian forces, said that "top Quds force commanders were tasked with advising and training Assad's military and his commanders", adding that "Revolutionary Guards directed the fighting on the instructions of the Quds Force commanders".[7] In addition there are thousands of Iranian paramilitary Basij volunteer fighters as well as Shi'ites from Iraq. Former Iranian official and a Syrian opposition source also put the count of those auxiliary forces in the thousands.[2][7]

A Syrian opposition source said in recent months Iranian led forces had begun operating in coastal areas including Tartous and Latakia. They have local ID cards, wear Syrian military fatigues and work with the elite Syrian air force intelligence unit.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Iranian Strategy in Syria, Institute for the Study of War, Executive Summary + Full report, May 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Iran boosts support to Syria, telegraph, 21 Feb 2014
  3. ^ a b c d "How Iran Keeps Assad in Power in Syria". Inside Iran. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  4. ^ BBC Newsnight, report on Iranian military advisor Hadari, 28 October 2013 'Iran's Secret Army' [1],[2]
  5. ^ a b "Syria's crisis: The long road to Damascus: There are signs that the Syrian regime may become still more violent", The Economist, 11 February 2012.
  6. ^ Goodarzi, Jubin (August 2013). "Iran and Syria at the Crossroads: The Fall of the Tehran-Damascus Axis?" (PDF). Viewpoints (Wilson Center). 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Iran boosts military support in Syria to bolster Assad, reuters, 21, Feb 2014
  8. ^ The Interim Finance Minister: 15 Billion Dollars Iranian Support to Assad; syrianef; 24, January, 2014
  9. ^ Holliday, Joseph (March 2012). "Syria's Armed Opposition" (PDF). Middle East Security Report 3. Institute for the Study of War. p. 25. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  10. ^ Moghtader, Michelle (April 4, 2014). "Iran does not seek indefinite power for Assad, senior diplomat says". The Daily Star ( Lebanon ). Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Syria crisis: Obama condemns 'outrageous' use of force". BBC. 23 April 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  12. ^ Navon, Emmanuel (27 March 2011). "'Iran, Hezbollah assisting in Syria protest suppression'". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Tisdall, Simon (9 May 2011). "Iran helping Syrian regime crack down on protesters, say diplomats". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  14. ^ "Syrian army being aided by Iranian forces". The Guardian. May 28, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Iran's Hizbullah sends more troops to help Assad storm Aleppo, fight Sunnis". World Tribune. July 29, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Iran Supplying Syrian Military via Iraqi Airspace". New York Times. September 4, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Iran warships enter Mediterranean via Suez Canal". BBC. 18 February 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  18. ^ Warrick, Joby; Sly, Liz (2 March 2012). "U.S. officials: Iran is stepping up lethal aid to Syria". Washington Post. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  19. ^ "Iran 'sending arms to Syria despite ban'". Al Jazeera. 17 May 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  20. ^ Charbonneau, Louis (16 May 2012). "Exclusive: Iran flouts U.N. sanctions, sends arms to Syria: panel". Reuters. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  21. ^ "Weapons being smuggled both ways between Lebanon and Syria: U.N. envoy". Al Arabiya. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  22. ^ Schmitt, Eric (21 June 2012). "C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  23. ^ Aneja, Atul (27 July 2012). "Iran pledges solid support amid escalating Syrian offensive". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  24. ^ "Iran accused of setting up pro-Assad militias". Al Jazeera. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  25. ^ "U.S. officials confirm captured Iranians in Syria are 'active' military: report". Al Arabiya. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  26. ^ Coughlin, Con (6 September 2012). "Iran sends elite troops to aid Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  27. ^ Iranian drones guiding Syrian attacks, rebels say| Nick Paton Walsh|| October 31, 2012
  28. ^ The Guardian, 9 January 2013, Assad regime frees more than 2,000 people believed to have opposition links in exchange for 48 detained Iranians
  29. ^ US State Department says men liberated in swap are members of the Revolutionary Guard
  30. ^ Fisk, Robert (16 June 2013). "Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria". The Independent. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  31. ^ Haaretz (16 June 2013). "Iran reportedly sending 4,000 troops to Syria, proposes front against Israel to protect Assad". Haaretz. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  32. ^ Fox/AP (16 June 2013). "Iran reportedly preparing to send 4,000 troops into Syria". Fox News. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  33. ^ Filkins, Dexter| "The Shadow Commander"| The New Yorker, Sept 30, 2013.
  34. ^ "Iran buries Guards commander 'killed in Syria'". BBC News. 5 November. Retrieved 5 November 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  35. ^ Saeed Kamali Dehghan (14 February 2013). "Elite Iranian general assassinated near Syria-Lebanon border". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 

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