The state of Iran has a deep involvement in Syria entailing expensive and well coordinated efforts to help extend president Bashar al-Saad’s grip on power. 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.
A mix of Iranian armed forces and spy agency are giving advisory assistance to the Syrian forces to help the country’s leader remain in power. With time, this approach has become an Iranian expeditionary training operation led by various arms 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.
Assad has also benefited from Iranian weapons supplies send to his country, specifically by air. This has been very important considering that significant gains made by rebels have closed important ground supply channels between Syria and Iraq. Thanks to the weapon stockpiles, the Syrian regime has managed to register a number of victories against the opposition.
Iran has also been extending help to shabiha militia that’s been fighting on the side of the Syrian government. This move may be somehow inspired by the need to counter any collapse of Asaad or narrowing of his territory to Alawite–a coastal enclave, and the country’s capital. Such an outcome would be beneficial to both the militias and Tehran, with Iran preserving some space within Syria, from which it may act and project its military force.
What Iran does in Syria matches the objectives and activities of numerous other armed parties. For instance in 2012, Hezbollah from Lebanon got actively involved in the Syrian conflict once anti-government militia started gaining ground in the country. The group has extended support to Asaad’s regime in the form of a strong well-trained military force whose role in the war is perfectly aligned with the strategic interests of Tehran.
Certainly, Iran’s activities within Syria are significantly limited due to factors beyond its power. 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. Nonetheless, Tehran has a hedging strategy meant to guarantee that, in case of the fall of the Syrian regime, its strategic regional interests do not suffer. Those goals are not far-fetched so long as the exit of Asaad leaves some Syrian regions under the governance of Tehran-friendly groups, allowing the country to operate from there, and hoping the opposition does not capture all of Syrian territory.