According to the Syrian state news agency SANA, the leaders of Iran and Syria’s regimes signed a strategic cooperation agreement aimed at long-term collaboration on Wednesday. These agreements and memorandums relate to several sectors, including oil, agriculture, railways, and free trade zones. The agreement came as regime president Ebrahim Raisi traveled to Syria, marking the first visit by an Iranian head of state to Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.
For quite some time, the Iran regime’s state-owned railway company has expressed its interest in extending its network via neighboring Iraq and Syria to connect to the Mediterranean Sea port of Lattakia, aiming to bolster trade. This is another attempt by Iran’s regime to expand its political sway.
Another part of the agreement, a memorandum of understanding, was also signed to promote cooperation in the oil industry.
Upon his arrival in the war-torn country, Raisi, accompanied by a significant economic and political delegation, held talks with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.
Since the 2011 uprising that escalated into a civil war, Tehran has been a key supporter of the Assad regime and has played a significant role in shifting the conflict’s momentum in his favor.
Iran’s regime has dispatched numerous military advisers and thousands of fighters supported by this regime from various Middle Eastern countries to fight alongside the Assad regime’s forces in Syria. Furthermore, Tehran has been crucial in sustaining Assad’s regime by providing fuel and extending credit lines worth billions of dollars.
Raisi’s visit to Syria and his expression of support for Assad are a reminder of Tehran’s involvement in the entirety of the Syrian regime’s war crimes and brutalities. Over the course of 12 years of civil war, Iranian leaders have remained unwavering in their support for Assad. Despite the consequences of mismanagement and corruption suffered by the Iranian population, Tehran has spent tens of billions of dollars to sustain Assad’s regime.
Supporting the Assad regime has incurred substantial costs for Tehran. In 2020, a regime lawmaker estimated that the undertaking had amounted to a cost of $20 billion to $30 billion.
In an interview with the pro-regime broadcaster al-Mayadeen prior to his visit, Raisi stated that his trip would aim to “strengthen and enhance” relations with Syria and other allies, including the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, which also intervened in Syria to support Assad’s regime.
Surprisingly, while Iran’s regime has played a major role in the country’s destruction, Raisi added in the interview with al-Mayadeen that his trip aims to help Assad’s regime reconstruct the country.
While the Iranian population is grappling with severe poverty, the reconstruction efforts in Syria are projected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Regarding the relationship between the two regimes, Raisi commented, “Despite numerous regional and international changes, the brotherly ties between Iran and Syria have remained unscathed, and both countries have demonstrated the correctness of their stances.”
The US State Department expressed that strengthening relations between Iran and Syria should be a major source of concern for US allies and the region and the world at large.
Why Iran’s regime supports Assad: a history
The Iranian regime considers the preservation of the Syrian government vital to its regional interests. As the uprising evolved into the Syrian Civil War, there were mounting reports of military assistance from the Iranian regime, including the training of the National Defense Forces both in Syria and Iran.
In early 2012, Iran’s IRGC started dispatching tens of thousands of its militants in cooperation with the Assad regime to prevent his army from collapsing, which further exacerbated the conflict along sectarian lines.
Estimates of the Iranian regime’s personnel in Syria vary from several hundred to tens of thousands. Since 2012, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, supported by Iran’s regime, have been involved in direct combat roles. From the summer of 2013 onwards, Iran and Hezbollah have extended significant battlefield assistance to Assad, enabling the regime to make headway against the opposition.
The Iranian regime has depicted its intervention as a religious and historical mission of vengeance to subjugate Sunnis. Tehran’s goals include promoting Shi’ism through religious conversion, establishing shrines, and altering demographics in Sunni-dominated areas by bringing in Shia settlers from abroad.
Iran’s regime considers the survival of the Syrian regime to be critical to its interests. Syria, its sole steadfast ally since the 1979 Islamic revolution, offers a crucial route to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iranian leaders have described Syria as Iran’s “35th province.”
The extensive support of the Syrian regime is part of the regime’s broader policy to take the hegemony in the Middle East. This policy is called the “Export of Revolution.” Since then, the regime supported every fundamentalist movement in the Middle East calling them the “Islamic awakenings”.
To realize this policy, the regime, over the last few years, has expanded its cultural influence in war-torn nations to encourage Sunnis to convert to Shiism or at the very least soften their attitudes toward their sectarian rivals.
The regime is providing financial assistance to those in need, promoting fundamentalism through seminaries, offering scholarships to children to study in Iranian universities, providing free healthcare and food baskets, and arranging trips to tourist destinations to encourage conversions. Meanwhile, the lives of millions of Iranians continue to spiral into poverty and misery.