Iran-Syria Relations

Iran-Syria Relations

In this article, we shall discuss the Iran-Syria relations. Given the closeness of the two governments, it is important to understand how close these two countries’ regimes are with one another. We will discuss the history of Iran-Syria ties, the reasons for their close relationship, and also the role of Iran in the Syrian conflict.

History of Iran-Syria Relations

The closer international relations between Iran and Syria that goes back decades. Namely, the ties between Iran and Syria improved greatly following the 1979 revolution in Iran. Prior to this time period, the leader of Iran, Muhammad Reza Shah was aligned with western powers Britain and the United States (so much so that these western states aided in the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq, and the reinstallation of the Shah). Furthermore, the leader of Syria, Hafez Al-Assad was concerned about the influence that Iran, Israel, and the West had in the region. To him, the Iranian-Israeli ties during this time were able to have a “hold on the Arab region” (Zerden, ND).

In 1979, after the removal of the Shah from leadership, and the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomenei and the Islamic theocracy, Iran-Syria relations improved greatly. Interestingly, Syria was one of the fastest states to recognize the new government in Iran (next to the Soviet Union) (Zerden, ND).

Iran-Syria Relations and Israel

For Al-Assad, following the 1979 revolution, Iran was now an ally. Its leadership shared similar concerns that Al-Assad in Syria had about Israel. Namely, “Assad’s hostile relationship with Israel stemmed primarily from a fear of Israeli military capabilities and the threat it poses to Syrian influence rather than any ideological determinant that might otherwise drive Syrian decision-making. Outstanding Syrian claims to the Golan Heights, as well as concerns regarding Israeli ambitions in Lebanon, and later Israeli economic hegemony, were the driving factors of Assad’s fears” (Zerden, ND). In fact, it is this similarity with regards to their views of Israel that has been a strong reason for the two countries’ alliance.

While they have different forms of government, their attention towards Israel has brought Iran and Syria further together. For example, Hafez Al-Assad made much of his foreign policy about Israel. In fact, “It was the Syrian leadership’s anti-Zionist, anti-American ideology that prevented it from joining with the Shah’s firmly Western-allied Iran. Once the Shah fell, however, the alignment of strategic interests as well as ideological beliefs between the two countries led to the near-instant creation of the alliance” (Gelbart, 2010: 40). Iran itself has continued focused on Israel, and has tried to be a frequent supporter of the Palestinians, and both have supporters groups that are hostile with Israel.

Now, this is not to say that they are completely aligned on Israel. Iran has time and time again not only dismissed any willingness to engage in diplomacy with Israel, but their leadership (whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or a number or hardliners) have repeatedly stated their strong dislike (and one could go as far as saying their hatred) for Israel. Syria is a bit different. While Hafez Al-Assad’s position on Israel (and vice versa) was one of distrust and hostility, he, and now his son Bashar Al-Assad both had more of a willingness to engage with Israel diplomatically (Ospina & Gray, 2014).

Iran-Syria Relations During Iraq-Iran War

Iran and Syria relations also had a common position towards Iraq at the time. In 1980, Saddam Hussein cancelled an important Algiers agreement between the two countries, and essentially declared war on Iran. This action concerned Syria as well as Iran. For Syria, they saw Iraq as one of the largest and strongest militaries in the region. Thus, there was a genuine concern at the level of power that Iraq held in the Middle East.  Now, on the surface it might seem odd that two Arab nationalist leaders, both from the Baath Party would hold different geopolitical interests. However, as Zerden (ND) writes: “the two states saw each other more as competitors than as natural allies. The 1966 split of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party into two factions, centered in Baghdad and Damascus respectively, led to a fierce rivalry between the countries. Other events, such as Iraq granting asylum to Michel Aflaq, a prominent exiled Syrian political figure, further complicated Iraqi relations with Syria. Despite a brief period of rapprochement between the two countries at the 1978 Baghdad Conference, enmity between Syria and Iraq vigorously resurfaced when Hussein blamed Syria for a coup plot uncovered just before the Iran-Iraq War. In this environment, a realist prediction would follow that Syria should support Iran to weaken Iraq.”

In addition to Al-Assad’s concern about Saddam Hussein in Iraq, this war that now began between Iraq and Iran would take the attention of Iran, thus leaving them less focused on Israel, which was of greater concern to Al-Assad (Zerden, ND). When the Iraq-Iran war began, so many of the Arab states in the region shifted their attention away from Israel and its policies in Palestine and elsewhere, and instead focused much more on what they viewed as the rising Iranian threat in the region. Thus, they quickly came to the support of Hussein in Iraq, providing backing as the Iraq-Iran conflict continued. However, for Al-Assad, this was also a problem because it meant that he would not get the same support in his battle against Israel (Zerden, ND). So, while the Arab states in the region were not as actively opposing Israel (especially compared to their attention to Iran during this period), Iran “was taking an aggressive rhetorical and material posture against Israel” (Zerden, ND). So, Syria was active in offering “….airlifts of weapons, medical supplies, and technical experts proved crucial in helping Iran absorb the initial Iraqi offensive” (Wallsh, 2013: 112).

Now, this move to stick with Iran (against Iraq) was not without consequences. While the concept of Arab Nationalism was not at the height of popularity in the Middle East (one could argue that this would have been during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser), nevertheless the concept of Arab nationalism was still on the minds of leaders, and continued to be an underlying principle in a number of the international relations of Arab states. So, Al-Assad’s decision to move closer to Tehren, and away from other Arab leaders was somewhat costly to him. But, the risk of a dominant and unchecked Iraq in the region was even more concerning to Al-Assad (Zerden, ND).

To the Arab regimes, Al-Assad chose a non-Arab non-Sunni country as its primary ally in the region over them. But for Al-Assad, he felt that if he was to align with the Arab countries, that he would lose some of his influence in the region, since a lot of the policies of the Arab states were being driven by Saudi Arabia, and Iraq (Zerden, ND). Iran allowed Al-Assad to wield influence as he wished. But again, this came at a price. A number of Arab countries were much more hesitant to work with Syria. In fact, the distancing was one reason why Syria actually agreed to an official treaty with the Soviet Union in 1980, which provided Syria was Soviet aid (Zerden, ND).

Interestingly, with all risks of working with Iran (and not the Arab states) understood, in some way, Hafez Al-Assad may have actually further benefitted with the buildup of Iran-Syria relations. The reason was that following this more open positioning towards Iran, Syria had a unique role and ability as a go-between for Iran and the different Arab states. In addition, Syria received substantial financial benefits from Iran; “Syria…[shut] down a major Iraqi oil pipeline that passed through its territory. This decision, most likely motivated by the Syrian government’s loathing of Iraq rather than by any encouragement from Tehran, cost Saddam Hussein’s regime millions of dollars per day. As a sign of gratitude, Iran provided Syria with free oil for the remainder of the war” (Gelbart, 2010: 37).

Nonetheless, the costs of choosing Iran over Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war continued to take a toll on Syria. In 1987, the Arab states were able to convince Syria–through a number of financial rewards, to back “resolutions proclaiming solidarity with Iraq against Iran.” Syria, in doing so, however, did temporarily hurt their relations with Teheran. However, the Iran-Syria relationship never completely went away, particularly with regards to the issue of Israel, and the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran-Syria Relations: 1982 War in Lebanon

In 1982, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon, and waged war against not only the Palestinian Liberation Organization fighters, but while there, Israel also offered support for the Phalange, a Maronite Christian group in Lebanon. As a response, Syria provided significant support to various forces fighting Israel. Here, Iran was more than willing to send in the Revolutionary Guards into the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (Ospina & Gray, 2014: 29).

With regards to Syria’s role in Lebanon during this time, “[b]y 1983, Syria marshaled enough support to de-legitimize the nascent Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty. It gradually reasserted political and military influence in Lebanon through its support of different Shiite, Palestinian, and Druze factions, to the detriment of both Israeli and American interests.25 Rising casualties in the civil war led to a complete American and limited Israeli withdrawal, heralding a victory for Assad by the end of 1983. This success catapulted Assad from pariah to popular hero throughout the Arab world” (Zerden, ND). However, Iran-Syria relations departed not over their position on Israel, but rather, on whom each state was backing within Lebanon.

For Syria, the primary actor that they fought through was Amal. This group was opposed to Israeli presence in Lebanon, but was also critical of Palestinian political and fighting presence in Lebanon. Iran however gave their attention to Hezbollah. Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist group formed as a force looking to remove Israel from Lebanon. While many of the Shia leaders within Lebanon were originally supportive of Israeli presence, but over time, felt that their activities were looking to be anything but temporary. The rise of Hezbollah was a useful new development for Al-Assad. Unable to pose a military threat to Israel on his own, Al-Assad turned his actions towards supporting Hezbollah’s fight against Israel, which thus led to more alignment on Iran-Syria relations.

For example, “The suicide attacks on the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut that ensued in April and October, respectively, were made possible in large part due to Syrian President Assad’s cooperation in allowing Hezbollah to strategize at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus. Assad’s decision to allow 500-1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards and untold amounts of arms to transit through his territory into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley also aided Hezbollah’s efforts” (Gelbart, 2010: 38).To some, these actions made Syria look much less like a possible broker of Middle Eastern affairs, which could have hurt their reputation amongst some leaders (Zerden, ND).

There were clear risks involved in Syria’s support of Hezbollah. While they were getting to fight a proxy war against Israel, it was also a real possibility that a rising Hezbollah, and also an Iranian relationship with Hezbollah could both put a damper on Syria’s interest in having control in Lebanon (Zerden, ND), something that they began establishing in the mid-1970s following the Lebanon Civil War in 1975-1976. So, in the case of Iran-Syria relations, both were interested in backing Hezbollah, but there were also calculations about what this would do to the power balance in Lebanon.

Hezbollah continued to provide a pathway for Syria’s involvement in Lebanon. Syria would attempt to control the political space in the country, which also included attempting to dictate who could run for politics, and how domestic affairs in Lebanon would play out.

Iran-Syria Relations and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

While much of the 1980s witnessed hostilities in the Middle East between countries such as Israel and Lebanon, as well as the Iran-Iraq war, there were also political developments in Syria that led to the furthering of ties between Iran and Syria. One of the most noted events was the Syrian government’s response to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and the Iranian response to these actions. The Muslim Brotherhood is a political Islamist movement that arose out of Cairo Egypt beginning in 1928. The organization spread throughout Egypt, and into other countries such as Jordan, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam in general grew throughout over the decades, and especially following Nasser’s defeat in the 1967 War; large numbers fled from Arab nationalism, and towards Islamic movements. One such movement took place in Syria, were the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood criticized Hafez al-Assad and his policies.

However, in 1982, Al-Assad’s government (ordering the army, among others) to use violence to meet Muslim Brother protesters;  It was in February of 1982 in Hama, Syria, where thousands of Muslim Brothers and their supporters were killed or injured. In this event, Iran spoke out on their support for the Al-Assad government against the Brotherhood and others anti-government protesters. What was shocking about this was that Iran was willing to criticize and Islamic-based movement in support of an Arab nationalist leader, especially since the Ayatollah stressed the importance of the Islamic political message in Iran spreading elsewhere (Gelbart, 2010: 38).

Iran-Syria Relations Following the Cold War

Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, along with the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Syria was looking as to establish its foreign policies moving forward. They already suffered some humiliation following reversing their position from supporting Iran to more criticism of the regime during the Iran-Iraq war. Furthermore, the fall of the Soviet Union seriously weakened Syria and their ability to receive the aid that they were getting from the USSR. Lastly, while Palestine was witnessing the Intifada, Syria did not have a major role in the politics of Palestine, further weakening the image that Al-Assad wanted to show as a champion of the Palestinian cause (Zerden, ND). In addition, Syria still saw itself surrounded by more powerful countries, whether it was Israel, Iraq, or a rising Egypt, Syria and Hafez Al-Assad were not viewed as a major power in the Middle East region.

On top of all of this, Iran-Syria relations were at somewhat of a low point. Iran understood what Syria did during the Iran-Iraq war. But along with that, a recluse Syria also meant that Iran was less involved in providing support for Syria for different geopolitical matters (Zerden, ND). So, looking for a way to have a better hand, Syria allied with the United States as America went into Kuwait to defend the country from the invasion by Saddam Hussein. The hope was not only that this would weaken (or even remove Hussein from power), but also that a Syrian-US relationship could flourish, one which would include US aid. Moreover, support for Kuwait could get Syria back on the good side of many Arab states, who themselves did not forget Syria’s long-standing ties to Iran throughout much of the 1980s. However, all of this came at a cost to Syria-Iran relations (Zerden, ND).

Iran was continuing its policies in the region, which include tension with Israel. Syria however, in the hopes of establishing the better relations with the US, and also other Arab states, was willing to offer support to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through dialogue. So, the United States was able to get Syria to support the Madrid Framework for the peace talks. This position was the opposite of Iran, although Iran was unable or unwilling to provide any support for Syria to reject the American overtures for entrance into the Madrid Framework.  Thus, throughout the 1990s, Syria and Israel tried to establish peace during the diplomatic meetings. For Syria, it was imperative that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights. For a number of reasons, the talks between Israel and Syria did not lead to peace (Zerden, ND).

Despite the different approaches towards Israel, Iran-Syrian relations themselves further improved. As Wallsh (2013) writes: “In September 1990, Hafez al-Assad made his first official state visit to Iran since the Islamic Revolution. One month later came the establishment of the Syrian-Iranian Higher Cooperation Committee, a body designed to convene regular meetings between the vice-presidents and foreign ministers of both countries. Policy coordination regarding Hezbollah was a primary result of these meetings, as was joint collaboration on ballistic missile production, undertaken in conjunction with North Korea” (113). This relationship would continue to be quite strong throughout the 1990s.

Iran-Syria Relations After September 11, 2001

It has been argued that the Iran-Syria relations were strengthened even more in the years after September 11th, 2001. Following the terror attacks on the United States, American leadership looked for allies throughout the world in the fight against terrorism. For the early period, the United States and Syria (under Bashar Al-Assad) worked together to go after terror groups like Al Qaeda. However, this alliance was rather shortlived; Syria became worried as the United States leadership under President George W. Bush were preparing for war in Iraq. What troubled Al-Assad was the arguments made for their actions, which in part focused on removing the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein from power due to his backing of terror groups. Al-Assad knew that the US wanted him to end ties with  Hezbollah, as well as Hamas. However, Al-Assad also saw that the United States may have not stopped with getting rid of Hussein, but that he might be next. As Wallsh (2013) notes: “For example, Richard Perle suggested as early as 2001 that the Syrians might be next on America’s hit list after Afghanistan and Iraq. And in April 2003, one month after the U.S. military invaded Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz warned “[t]here will have to be change in Syria, plainly.”20 In fact, even before September 11 nearly three dozen influential Washington figures, many of whom would play a role in the Bush era’s foreign policy, signed a report calling for military intervention in Syria” (113).

It was also around this time that part of the Bush’s administration turned to Iran, and concerns about their nuclear program.  Tensions were heightened when President Bush labelled Iran one of the three countries within the “axis of evil.” The US was also critical of any country that helped terror organizations. It was the attention to Hezbollah and Hamas, and calls for Syria to leave Lebanon that was a priority for the US. But with Iran and Syria’s continued support of such groups, this further alienated the US, and seemed to make countries less willing to work with Syria. The label of “state sponsors of terrorism” distanced countries from both Iran and Syria. This left Syria and Iran left rather alone, and began to work even more with each other (Gelbart, 2010). As Gelbart (2010) noted:

With no one else to turn to, the relationship between the two countries has become closer today than at any point in its thirty-year history. The first foreign head of state to visit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his 2005 inauguration was none other than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, President Ahmadinejad has made five visits to Damascus, while Dr. Assad has flown to Tehran an additional three times. These repeated visits reveal the depth of the Syrian-Iranian alliance and serve the symbolic purpose of reminding the countries’ populations that their leaders—however unpopular they may be at home—have appreciable international support” (39). In addition, they also established various bilateral agreements, which included a mutual defense agreement in the year 2006 (Gelbart, 2010). As Wallsh (2013) explains, this Iran-Syrian alliance was in large part as a counterweight to against threats within the Middle East, and by the United States (who looked like they were willing to challenge the sovereignty of both states) (Wallsh, 2013)..

Iran-Syria Relations and the United States

Iran-Syria relations have also been strong between one another due to similar geopolitical interests in the Middle East. For example, both Syria and Iran are known backers of the Shia Islamist group in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Syria and Iran are believed to supply Hezbollah with money and also weapons. Hezbollah serves a purpose for each of these states. For Iran, they have a Shia based group, similar to the regime in Iran, who have similar positions on countries like Israel. For Hezbollah, their formation was based on the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in 1982, and Iran has continued to support this organization. For Syria, they also see Hezbollah as an actor that can put additional pressure on Israel. Syria and Israel have themselves been engaged in a number of wars (whether it was 1948, 1967, or 1973), and in 1967, during the 6-Day War, Israel occupied a number of territories, which included the Golan Heights. Israel continues to control the Golan Heights to this day.

Another reason for the increased relations between Iran and Syria had something to do with their respective relationships with Western states, and particularly the United States of America. Much of had to do with events during the early 2000s. For example, in 2003, both Iran and Syria were highly critical of the United States led invasion of Iraq (Yacoubian, 2007).

Furthermore, Syria and Iran stood by each other’s side as Iran was levied with several sanctions on account of its nuclear weapons program. Iran has tried to continue to build its economic relationship with Syria, whether in the form of aid, or establishing new businesses in Syria (Gelbart, 2010).

Iran-Syria Relations and the Syrian War

On December 17th, 2010, the self-immolation by Mohammad Bouazizi in Tunisia sparked a mass people’s movement in Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.  These protests called the removal of authoritarian leaders, and the installation of a democratic system of elections and governance.

In 2011, protesters in Damascus and other parts of Syria during the wave of the Arab Spring were calling for the removal of Bashar al-Assad. However, Al-Assad did not leave like other dictators did in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, but rather, he stayed and has continued to fight for power. This war, the Syrian conflict, which began as a civil conflict, has become–over time–a large scale international conflict between a number of states that include but are not limited to Syria, Russia, Iran, The United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc…

During the Arab Spring, Iran was an outspoken backer of protesters, particularly since the leaders being challenged were pro-Western, anti-Islamic based regimes. As Goodrazi (2013) explains, “Portraying the opposition movements as Islamist, the Iranian leadership confidently declared that the Arab Spring would usher in a new pan-Islamic era in the Middle East and North Africa, in which authoritarian regimes would be supplanted by Islamist governments. From Tehran’s perspective, the tide had finally turned against the West and its regional allies” (2).

However, their position changed really quickly once they saw that their top ally in the region, Syria and Bashar al-Assad, was the target of anti-governements protests. As much as Iran wanted these movements to take hold in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, they were not happy with this occurring in Syria, with their key partner in the region.

The Syrian conflict has been used by many regimes as an opportunity to press for their own political and military interests in the country and in the region. This war has been an opportunity for a number of Al-Assad allies to enter into the country and provide support for his regime. For example, there has been no stronger ally for Syria during this time than Russia. Putin has continued to provide a wide range of support (including weaponry such as planes and an anti-missile system) to help ensure al-Assad stays in power (this has affected Iran’s relations with other countries, such as Iran-Turkey relations).

This conflict has also shown that Iran is serious about keeping their ally al-Assad leading the country. Interestingly, neither Iran nor Hezbollah ran to the aid of al-Assad in the early months and years. At first, “Tehran initially hoped that by assisting the Ba’athist regime, Damascus would be able to ride out the crisis within a short time. As a result, Iran staunchly supported Assad’s efforts to crush the protests by providing technical support and expertise to neutralize the opposition. The Iranians provided advice and equipment to the Syrian security forces to help them contain and disperse protests. In addition, they gave guidance and technical assistance on how to monitor and curtail the use of the Internet and mobile phone networks by the opposition” (Goodrazi, 2013). However, over time, it became clear that Iran had Revolutionary Guards sent into the country to shore up the al-Assad regime. However, the numbers were not as high in the years years of the conflict. In those early years, the number may have been in the hundreds (Goodrazi, 2013). It was only in the recent years that the number of Iranian forces was said to increase.

For Iran (and also Hezbollah), they have argued that their interests in Syria are not only to fight against Israel (which itself has been active in the war), but also to protect Shia minorities and Shia shrines from attacks by the Islamic State. However, for Iran, it is much more than that. They need to maintain their ally, Bashar al-Assad. Syria is too strategically important for Iran, and thus, for them, it seems that the Iranian government and military is willing to go to great lengths to ensure that the rebels (backed by the US) do not overthrow the Syrian government. There are also other motivations for Iran. As Goodrazi (2013) writes:

Although the current strategy of trying to prop up the Assad regime is partially aimed at preserving Iran’s ability to project its power and influence in the Levant, the strategy also has several key defensive components. Over the past year, tensions in Iraq have increased markedly, and the confrontation between the Shi’a-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and the Sunni opposition has intensified. Armed Sunni extremist groups have conducted bold attacks against Iraqi civilians and the vestiges of the Iraqi state. The success of the Syrian opposition in seizing control of areas in the east bordering Iraq and their increasing cooperation with Iraqi Sunni insurgents have contributed to the growing instability in Iraq. This has also alarmed policy makers in Tehran (5).

In 2013, Iran, seeing the lower chances of Al-Assad withstanding the rebels and their international allies, was much more open to a negotiated settlement on Syria. But the same could be said for Russia. However, as negotiations broke down, and Russia increased their support for Al-Assad (with more troops), as did Iran. Goodrazi (2013) argues in 2013 that “Iran has continued to provide military assistance to prop up the Assad regime in order to bolster its chances of survival and to strengthen its bargaining position in the event of a substantive political dialogue with its opponents.” However, in the past couple of years, outside support for Al-Assad, and the military gains against rebel forces have seemed to change the scenario from one in which Al-Assad would eventually leave, to one that may allow him to retain large parts of Syria.

So, both Iran and Hezbollah (as well as Russia) have been willing to take out any consequences of their defense of al-Assad in Syria. And it seems that the Iran-Syrian relations have only strengthened as Al-Assad has been able to use outside forces to ensure his political survival.


So, while Iran and Syria have had different political leaderships, and have differed on the type of governance (with Iran structuring its government on an Islamic-based system, whereas Hafez (and later Bashar) Al-Assad governance was centered much more on Arab nationalism than Islam (although Islam was also used by both leaders). There continue to be questions on whether this Iran-Syria relations will continue to be strong in the future. Even past arguments have been centered around just how much common interests these two states have. Some see them as continuing to have the same friends, and the same enemies. Others however suggest that they their interests do not align directly, which could suggest potential variations in their policies towards other countries, and also towards one another (Barzegar, 2010).

Right now, they still seem to have a lot in common. Both have one another, in a region in which there are other states looking to gain power, and who are contrary to these two countries; Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt pose their own challenges to Syria and Iran. Furthermore, both Iran and Syria still highly value Hezbollah, as the group is an effective proxy in their hostilities with Israel. Hezbollah is able to take on a lot of attention that would otherwise be addressed to these two states (Barzegar, 2010). Again, the difference is that Iran also has much more in common with Hezbollah ideologically and religiously than Syria. Even so, Hezbollah and Iran’s position on Israel seems to be more aligned than Al-Assad’s position on Israel (Ospina & Gray, 2014). Even so, Hezbollah is very reliant on both Iran and Syria for weapons and aid, and these two states both benefit by the activities of Hezbollah.

With regards to the future of Iran-Syria relations, some have written on what they think it would take for Iran to no longer support Bashar al-Assad. As Ospina & Gray (2014) write: “There have been a lot of different advisors within the Iranian government that think that they should distance themselves as much as possible from the al- Assad regimes. Support for Assad is increasingly becoming a liability for the Iranian leaders, contradicting its self-image as the voice of justice, speaking on behalf of the Middle East’s downtrodden. (Mohns & Bank, 2012)”.

There are a few possible scenarios in which Iran could change their position with regards to Iran-Syria relations. One possible way could be if there is a sharp turn by Putin and Russia away from Syria. While this helped both Iran and Al-Assad (Iran has more support now in their presence, and Al-Assad has a better chance of staying in power), Iran might not be too happy with Russia’s increased influence, at the expense of their ability to keep the alliance with Al-Assd. But, if Russia reduces its need to ensure that Al-Assad stays (by bridging ties with Turkey, for example) (Al-Burai, 2016), then this could all of a sudden cost Iran even more to stay in the fight. However, there is little evidence that Russia is willing to reduce their support for Al-Assad, particularly in recent years, given the ability to change the direction of the war in Syria.

Yet another point is that Iran-Syria relations could deteriorate if they miscalculate their goal of increased influence throughout the region; their actions in Iraq, Yemen and Syria could be costly to them, both financially and politically. If these wars become too much of a burden, they may be forced to step back and reduce support in one or all of these areas.

However, for now, it seems that Iran-Syria relations continue to be strong, given the overlapping interests both have in the Middle East.

Iran-Syria References

Al-Burai, A. (2016). When will Iran abandon Bashar al-Assad? Al Jazeera English.

Barzegar, K. (ND). Iran’s Foreign Policy towards Iraq and Syria, pages 1-8. Available Online:

Gelbart, J. (2010). The Iran-Syria Axis: A Critical Investigation. Stanford Journal of International Relations. Fall 2010, pages 36-42. Available Online:

Goodrazi, J.M. (2002). The Formative Years of the Syrian-Iranian Alliance: Power Politics In the Middle East, 1979-1989. Doctor of Philosophy Thesis. Available Online:

Goodrazi, J. (2013). Iran and Syria at the Crossroads: The Fall of the Tehran-Damascus Axis? Woodrow Wilson Center. Viewpoints, No. 35, August 2013, pages 1-7. Available Online:

Mohns, E., & Bank, A. (2012). Syrian revolt fallout: End of the resistance axis. Middle East Policy, XIX (3), 25-35.

Ospina, M.V. & Gray, D.H. (2014). Syria, Iran, and Hizballah: A Strategic Alliance. Global Security Studies, Winter 2014, Volume 5, Issue 1, pages 27-36.

Wallsh, D. (2013). Syrian Alliance Strategy in the Post-Cold War Era: The Impact of Unipolarity. The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 2, pages 107-123. Available Online:

Yacoubian, M. (2007). Syria’s Alliance With Iran. United States Institute of Peace. May 2007. Available Online:

Zerden, A.B. (ND). Syrian Foreign Policy Toward Iran: A Strategic Relationship or Tactical Convergence? NIMEP Insights, pages 17-29. Available Online:

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