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Rescuing the Assad Regime and Turning Syria into a Client State

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Iran, Revolution, and Proxy Wars

Part of the book series: Middle East Today ((MIET))

Abstract

Facing an existential threat from the civil unrest of the Arab Spring, the Assad regime in Syria, a long-standing ally, turned to help Iran. Although the statist elite expressed misgivings about involvement, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), supported by Ayatollah Khamenei, quickly mobilized to fight an array of anti-Assad militias. Indeed, Suleimani, eager to turn Syria into a full-fledged client state and a virtual strategic extension of Iran created the Shiite Liberation Army, an array of Shiite volunteers. Unable to turn the tide, Suleimani solicited help from Russia which saved the regime. The IRGC-QF utilized the victory to complete two strategic projects, the Land Bridge capable of transferring weapons to Hezbollah and a series of missile sites to create a new front against Israel. Israel’s numerous bombing raids have raised questions about the plan’s viability. At the same time, the IRGC, which is embedded with the Syrian forces, is not likely to leave the country.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Mohsen Milani, “Why Tehran Would Not Abandon Assad (ism),” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 4, 2013, pp. 79–93.

  2. 2.

    Nader Uskowi, Temperature Rising, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Wars in the Middle East, Lanham, Md. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, loc. 216; Milani Why Tehran Would Not Abandon Assad.

  3. 3.

    Afkar News, A Review of Syria’s Support of Iran, Afkar News, https://www.afkarnews.com/بخش-سیاسی-469358/3-بازخوانی-حمایت-های-سوریه-از-ایران; Round One at Shepherdstown, The New York Times, January 12, 2000, https://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/12/opinion/round-one-at-shepherdstown.html.

  4. 4.

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  5. 5.

    Syrian Conflagration: The Syrian Civil War, 2011–2013, Helion and Company, 2016, p. 72.

  6. 6.

    Ali Akbar Velayati, Syria Is the Golden Ring of Resistance line, in Mohammad Khalilpour, A Different Story of Logic of Being in Syria (Tehran: Masir-e Aftab, 2017), pp. 103–109; Qassem Suleimani, Victor of Faith and Virtue over Terrorism, in Mohammad Khalilpour, A Different Story of Logic of Being in Syria (Tehran: Masir-e Aftab, 2017), pp. 31–42; Asriran, Chief of Amar Base, Syria is the 35th province of Iran, Asre Iran, February 14, 2013, https://www.asriran.com/fa/news/257730/رئیس-قرارگاه-عمار-سوریه-استان-سی-و-پنجم-است-اگر-دشمن-بخواهد-سوریه-یا-خوزستان-را-بگیرد-اولویت-حفظ-سوریه-است-تحریم-ها-مثل-قبل-نیست; Adam Rawnsley, “Inside Iran’s Secret War in Syria,” Daily Beast, November 13, 2015; Martin Chulov, “Amid Syrian Chaos Iran’s Game Plan Emerges. A Path to the Mediterranean,” Guardian, October 8, 2016.

  7. 7.

    Bernard Rougier, The Sunni Tragedy in the Middle East: Northern Lebanon from Al-Qaeda to ISIS, Princeton University Press, 2015, 154; NCRI, How Iran Fuels Syria War, loc. 97; Interview with John Kerry, Fox News, November 17, 2015, State Department Website, http://www.state.gov/secretaty/remarks/2015/11/249588.htm; National Council of Iran Resistance How Iran Fuels Syria War, loc. 98. Michael Griffith, Islamic State. Rewriting History, London: Pluto Press, 2016, p. 77; Mark Townsend, “The Core Isis Manuel That Twisted Islam to Legitimize Barbarity,” Guardian, May 12, 2018.

  8. 8.

    Milani, “Why Tehran Won’t Abandon Assad”; Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 1826; Rawnsley, “Inside Iran’s Secret War in Syria.”

  9. 9.

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  10. 10.

    William van Wagenen, “Did Assad Deliberately Release Islamic Prisoners to Militarize and Radicalize the Syrian Uprising,” The Libertarian Institute, February 22, 2018.

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  11. 11.

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  12. 12.

    David Ignatius, “Al-Qaeda Affiliate Playing Larger Role in Syria Rebellion,” Washington Post, November 30, 2012.

  13. 13.

    ONA, “Iranian General: Suleimani is Forming Shia Liberation Army,” Orient Net, August 8, 2016, https://www.orient-news.net/en/news_show/120751/0/Iranian-general-Suleimani-is-forming-Shia-Liberation-Army; Phillip Smyth, The Shite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects, Washington Institute, February 25, 2015; Shimon Shapira, “Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, May 2, 2013.

  14. 14.

    MNA, Signing up for Dispatching Volunteers to Syria, Mashregh News Agency, May 5, 2013, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/212358/نام-نويسي-اعزام-نيروي-داوطلب-به-سوريه; Namnak, Conditions and Methods of Registration of Shrine Defenders, January 26, 2016, namnak.com/ثبت-نام-مدافعان-حرم.p26059.

  15. 15.

    Phillip Smyth, The Shite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effect, Washington Institute, 2015, pp. 13–15.

  16. 16.

    TNA, Funeral of the Afghan martyrs’ protector of Hazrat Zainab’s Shrine in Qom, Tasnim News Agency, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1392/09/05/203730/تشییع-پیکر-شهدای-افغان-مدافع-حرم-حضرت-زینب-س-در-قم-عکس; MNA, Narrated by a Witness: The Burial of the Martyrs Defender of the Shrine, Tasnim News Agency, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/398211/روایت-یک-شاهد-از-دفن-غریبانه-شهید-مدافع-حرم-عکس; Bultan News, Afghan Shrine Defenders Receive 100 Dollars Gift Monthly, Bultan News, https://www.bultannews.com/fa/news/385539/فاطمیون-پیش%E2%80%8Cقراول-نبرد-سوریه-بودند-حماسه-افغان%E2%80%8Cها-مثال%E2%80%8Cزدنی-است-ارتش-چندین-لشکر-داوطلب-شهادت-دارد-والله-به-مدافعان-حرم-ماهیانه-حداکثر-100-دلار-هدیه-می%E2%80%8Cدهند.

  17. 17.

    Phillip Smyth, The Shite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Implications, Washington Institute, 2015, 37; N. Moses, “Iran Tightens Grip on Syria Using Syrian and Foreign Forces,” MEMRI, May 4, 2015.

  18. 18.

    Phillip Smyth, The Shite Jihad in Syria.

  19. 19.

    Debka File, “The Next Iranian-Israeli Engagement in Syria Is Due in Late April, Early May,” Debka File, February 12, 2018.

  20. 20.

    Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 1544–1553; Seth Franzman, “Who Are the 80,000 Shite Fighters in Syria? Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2018; NCRI, How Iran Fuels Syria War, loc. 157; Abbas Qaidaari, “Who Sent Iranian Green Berets to Syria?” Al Monitor, April 28, 2016; Colin Clarke, Phillip Smyth, “The Implications of Iran’s Expanding Shia Foreign Fighters Network.” CTC Sentential, vol. 10, issue 1, 2017.

  21. 21.

    NCRI, How Iran Fuels the Syria War, loc. 183; Phillip Smyth, The Shiite Jihad in Syria And Its Regional Effects, Policy Focus 138, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2015.

  22. 22.

    Phillip Smyth, “How Iran Is Building Its Syrian Hezbollah,” Policy Watch, 2580, The Washington Institute, March 8, 2018.

  23. 23.

    Amir Taheri, “Why Iran’s Intervention in Syria Proved So Costly,” Asharq al- Awsat, March 14, 2018; “Iran Appoints New Commander in Syria,” NCRI, https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/ncri-statements/terrorism-fundamentalism/19701-iran-irgc-appoints-new-commander-in-syria.

  24. 24.

    Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick, “Iran and Hezbollah Build a Militia Network in Syria in the Event that Assad Falls, Officials Say,” Washington Post, February 10, 2013.

  25. 25.

    FNA, Iran, Russia Discuss Bilateral Ties, Regional Developments, Fars News Agency, en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13930801000523; TIC, “New Intelligence Cooperation Between Moscow and Tehran,” XX Committee, October 24, 2014, https://20committee.com/2014/10/24/new-intelligence-cooperation-between-moscow-and-tehran/.

  26. 26.

    Leila Bassam and Tom Perry, “How Iranian General Plotted Out Syrian Assault in Moscow,” Reuter, October 6, 2015; Ali Akbar Velayati, Why Velayati Met Putin? velayati.ir/fa/news/1356/چرا-ولایتی-با-پوتین-دیدار-کرد; TNA, Velayati Meeting with Putin, Tasnim News Agency, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1393/11/08/636498/ملاقات-1-5ساعته-ولایتی-با-پوتین-ابلاغ-پیام-روحانی-به-رئیس-جمهور-روسیه-عکس.

  27. 27.

    Enlarged meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defense, http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56472; RG, More than 48,000 Russian military have experience in Syria, RGRU, https://rg.ru/2017/12/23/bolee-48-tysiach-rossijskih-voennyh-poluchili-opyt-v-sirii.html; Leith Aboufadel, Russian Air Force paralyzes ISIS in southeast Homs, AMN, https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/russian-air-force-paralyzes/; Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverov, “Russian Civilians Helping Assad Use Military Back Home,” Reuter, April 25, 2018.

  28. 28.

    The Guardian, ‘More than 90%’ of Russian airstrikes in Syria have not targeted Isis, U.S. says, The Guardian, October 7, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/07/russia-airstrikes-syria-not-targetting-isis.

  29. 29.

    Ryan Browne and Jamie Crawford, Russia’s most advanced fighter arrives in Syria, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/23/politics/russia-su-57-advanced-fighter-jet-syria/index.html; Reuters, Russia, Jordan agree on military coordination on Syria, October 23, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-jordan/russia-jordan-agree-on-military-coordination-on-syria-idUSKCN0SH1ER20151023; Down but not yet out: What Russian intervention means for the opposition, The Economist, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2015/10/10/down-but-not-yet-out; Tatev M. Antonyan, “Russia and Iran in the Syrian Conflict. Similar Aspirations, Different Approaches,” Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs Vol. 11, No. 3, 2017.

  30. 30.

    Phil Stewart, As Russia escalates, U.S. rules out military cooperation in Syria, Reuters, October 7, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-cooperation-idUSKCN0S11EH20151007; RT, Proof please? CNN claims Russian missiles crashed in Iran, Moscow refutes, US can’t confirm, October 8, 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/318059-russia-syria-ccn-iran-missiles/; Barbara Starr, Obama authorizes resupply of Syrian opposition, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/05/politics/russia-ground-campaign-syria-isis/.

  31. 31.

    Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 559.

  32. 32.

    ICRC, “Syria: Aleppo One of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times,” The International Committee of the Red Cross. 15 August 2016, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/syria-news-cities-aleppo-one-most-devastating-urban-conflicts; Robin Wright, “The Battle for Aleppo, Syria’s Stalingrad, Ends.” New Yorker, December 13, 2016; Martin Chulov, Saeed Kamali Deghan, and Patrick Wintour, “Iran Hails Victory in Aleppo as Shite Militias Boost Syria’s Bashar al Assad,” Guardian, December 14, 2016; Zack Beauchamp, “The Fall of Aleppo,” Vox, December 16, 2016.

  33. 33.

    Funeral of the Defenders of the Shrine in Islamshahr, September 8, 2017, https://tamasha.com/v/LLy4x/مراسم-تشییع-پیکر-شهدای-مدافع-حرم-در-اسلامشهر; Javan, Funeral of the Defenders of the Shrine in Mashhad, Javan Online, April 23, 2015, www.javanonline.ir/fa/news/714936/مراسم-تشییع-پیکر-شهدای-مدافع-حرم-مشهد; Ghaidaa Hetou, The Syrian Conflict: The Role of Russia, Iran, and the US in a Global Crisis, Routledge, 2018, p. 89; How Iran Fuels Syria War. National Council of Resistance of Iran. US Representative Office, 2016, loc. 442–472.

  34. 34.

    Martin Chulov, Saeed Kamali Deghan, and Patrick Wintour, “Iran Hails Victory in Aleppo as Shite Militias Boost Syria’s Bashar al Assad,” Guardian, December 14, 2016; Elijah J. Magnier, “Qassem Suleimani’s Letter to the US,” https://ejmagnier.com/2017/12/09/qassem-soleimanis-letter-to-the-us-leave-syria-or-else-could-al-hasaka-2018-become-beirut-1983/.

  35. 35.

    Martin Chulov, Saeed Kamali Deghan, and Patrick Wintour, “Iran Hails Victory in Aleppo as Shite Militias Boost Syria’s Bashar al Assad,” Guardian, December 14, 2016; Ghaidaa Hetou, The Syrian Conflict: The Role of Russia, Iran and the U.S. in a Global Crisis, p. 89; Robin Wright, “The Battle for Aleppo, Syria’s Stalingrad, Ends.” New Yorker, December 13, 2016.

  36. 36.

    Quoted in Yossef Bodansky, “Is the Iranian Empire Finally Re-emerging?” Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, Vol. 45, 11/12, November 1, 2017; Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 590.

  37. 37.

    Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 2033.

  38. 38.

    NCRI, How Iran Fuels the Syria War.

  39. 39.

    Ibid.

  40. 40.

    MEMRI, “Studies of Arab Researchers of Distribution of Foreign Bases Across Syria,” MEMRI, December 2, 2018, https://www.memri.org/reports/studies-arab-researchers-distribution-foreign-bases-across-syria.

  41. 41.

    Al Monitor Staff, “Assad Say He Is Open to Establishing Iranian Bases in Syria,” Al Monitor, June 14, 2018; Michael Bachner, “Iran Has 10 Military Bases in Syria, Two Near Israel Border,” Times of Israel, February 19, 2018; Sue Surkes, “Alleged Iranian Base Near Syria Border Caught on Camera,” Times of Israel, November 16, 2017.

  42. 42.

    Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 216; Fabrice Balanche “The Iranian Land Bridge in the Levant: The Return of Territory in Geopolitics,” Telos, Scope, September 14, 2018; Martin Chulov, “Amid Syrian Chaos Iran’s Game Plan Emerges a Path to the Mediterranean,” Guardian, October 8, 2016; Martin Chulov, “Iran Changes Course of Road to Mediterranean Coast to Avoid US Forces,” Guardian, May 16, 2017.

  43. 43.

    Martin Chulov, Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: A path to the Mediterranean, The Guardian, October 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/08/iran-iraq-syria-isis-land-corridor.

  44. 44.

    Martin Chulo, Iran changes course of road to Mediterranean coast to avoid US forces, The Guardian, May 16, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/iran-changes-course-of-road-to-mediterranean-coast-to-avoid-us-forces; An Iranian Project to Access Mediterranean Shores, Iran Diplomacy, December 3, 2018, irdiplomacy.ir/fa/news/1980376/پروژه-ای-برای-دسترسی-ایران-به-سواحل-مدیترانه.

  45. 45.

    Uskowi, Temperature Rising, loc. 216, 2025, Jackson Doering, “Washington Militia Problem is Iran’s Militia Problem,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Analysis, February 19, 2018; Fabrice Balanche, “The Iranian Land Bridge in the Levant: The Return of Territory in Geopolitics.” Telos Scope, September 14, 2018.

  46. 46.

    Amir Toumaj, “IRGC-Controlled Iraqi Militia Forms Golan Liberation Brigade,” Long War Journal, March 12, 2017.

  47. 47.

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  48. 48.

    Anna Ahronheim, “IDF: Hezbollah Head of Golan Operations Murdered U.S. Troops in Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, March 13, 2019; Israel Announced the Discovery of a Hezbollah-Affiliated Network in the Golan Heights, www.bbc.com/persian/world-47563998.

  49. 49.

    Katherine Bauer, Hanin Ghaddar, and Asaf Orion, “Iran’s Precision Missile Project Moves to Lebanon,” Washington Institute, December 2018; “Iran Send Hezbollah Rocket Part to Turn Rockets Into Precision Missiles,” Times of Israel, October 19, 2018; Introducing the scientific achievements of the high technology center in the exhibition of advanced achievements of Iran in Syria, prjdsharif.blogfa.com/category/1; David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman, “A Top Syrian Scientist Is Killed, and Fingers Point at Israel,” New York Times, August 6, 2018.

  50. 50.

    “New US-Israeli Project Iran Is Headed by IDF’s Major General Nitzan Alon,” Debka File, July 3, 2018; Anna Ahronheim, “Before and After Images Show Israeli Strike on Iranian Base,” Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2018; NCRI, How Iran Fuels the Syria War, loc. 200; TOI staff, “Outgoing Chief of Staff: Israel Has Struck ‘Thousands of Iranian Targets in Syria, Times of Israel, January 12, 2019.

  51. 51.

    Anna Ahronheim, “It IDF heats Syria, Are Daytime Strikes Army Chief of Staff Kochavi’s New Strategy?” Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2019.

  52. 52.

    Northern Syrian Observer, “Iran Has the Stronger Influence in Eastern Syria,” NSO Special Report, February 27, 2018; Raja Abdulrahim and Benoit Faucon, “Iran Moves to Cement Its Influence in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2019.

  53. 53.

    Robert Fisk, “Syria’s New Housing Law,” Independent May 31, 2018; Hanin Ghaaddar, “The Iranian Empire Is Almost Complete,” Tower, December 2016.; Fabrice Balanche, “From the Iranian Corridor to the Shite Crescent,” Hoover Institution, August 17, 2018.

  54. 54.

    Robert F. Worth, “Kidnapped Royalty Became Pawns in Iran’s Deadly Plot,” New York Times, AW Staff, “The Tangled Web of Qatar’s Missing Falconers.” The Arab Weekly, March 22, 2018; New York Times, March 14, 2018; Martin Chulov, “Iran Repopulates Syria with Shia Muslims to Help Tighten Regime’s Control,” Guardian, January 13, 2017.

  55. 55.

    Jonathan Spyer, “A New Order Emerges in Southern Syria as Assad Regions Control.” Jerusalem Post, November 30, 2018.

  56. 56.

    Ilan Berman, “New Report: Iran’s Influence in Syria Far Broader Than Commonly Understand,” Tablet May 31, 2018; Seth J. Franzman, “Northern Exposure: Israel’s Stability in Juln Question Amid Russian Offer,” Jerusalem Post, July 28, 2018; IRNA, We are negotiating with Iranian Mobile Operators, www.ghatreh.com/news/nn46342091/رییس-مجلس-سوریه-اپراتورهای-تلفن-همراه-ایران-مذاکره-داریم; YJC, Iran’s contribution to the reconstruction of Syria’s power plants, https://www.yjc.ir/fa/news/6239969/مشارکت-ایران-در-بازسازی-و-ایجاد-نیروگاه%E2%80%8Cهای-برق-سوریه.

  57. 57.

    Meir Javednafar, “Rouhani’s Iraqi Visit Raises Important Questions for Israel.” Al-Monitor, March 18, 2019; Soleimani’s Deputy: Asad was brought to Tehran by the Quds Force; Those who should know, were Aware about it, Radio Farda, https://www.radiofarda.com/a/iran-irgc-commander-says-brought-assad-to-tehran/29806344.html.

  58. 58.

    Raja News, The railways connect Iran, Iraq and Syria, April 13, 2019, www.rajanews.com/news/313979/راه-آهن-ایران،-عراق-و-سوریه-به-هم-وصل-می%E2%80%8Cشود; Hamid Azizi, “What Rouhani’s Visit to Iraq Tells Us about Iran’s Implications of Rouhani’s Visit to Iraq on Syrian Policy,” Al-Monitor, March 18, 2019; Amir Taheri, “Mullahs and the English-Opium Eater,” Asharq Al-Awsat, March 22, 2019; MNA, Tehran will be Connected to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon Through a Highway, Mashregh News Agency, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/845373/تهران-از-طریق-بزرگراه-به-عراق-سوریه-و-لبنان-وصل-می-شود.

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Seliktar, O., Rezaei, F. (2020). Rescuing the Assad Regime and Turning Syria into a Client State. In: Iran, Revolution, and Proxy Wars. Middle East Today. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29418-2_6

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