In recent years tension in the Middle East has led to more and more division among the countries in the region. Local powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran have strengthened relationships among their global backers like the US, EU, and Russia for protection and influence on the world stage. As a result, smaller nations have become splintered over their own alliances and forced to choose sides.
The country of Syria has experienced a great deal of conflict within its own borders due to the Syrian civil war which was started in 2011. The Bashar al-Assad regime has committed mass atrocities against its own people and fights for control of land dominated by ISIS. During this time, Syria’s already strong relationship with Iran has strengthened. As a result of these ties, Iran has provided the Syrian government with support in the form of technical, financial and combat training. They have even gone so far as to supply the Syrian government with ground troops.
Photographic evidence was captured by Israeli intelligence, proving that Iranian military forces have established a training facility outside Damascus. Some estimates put the total number of Iranian trained and financed extremist fighters at 80,000.
Syria’s relationship with Iran goes back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi due to his ties with the United States. Iran relies on Syria as a vital ally in the region. The philosophical similarities between the governments and the country’s geographic location–which provides close access to Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy–are two of the most likely motivators for Iran’s assistance to the Syrian civil war effort.
For many years the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has utilized the Syrian city of Zabadani as a strategic mid-point to supply Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. Before the war broke out it was not uncommon for Iran to station as many as 3,500 troops at a time in Syria to provide extra training and protection of supply routes.
Experts believe that Iran provided significant training to National Defense forces in Syria at the beginning of the war. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, led by Mark Dubowitz briefed members of Congress and State Department officials on evidence that suggests Iran flew supply missions to help Syrian forces. You can follow Mark Dubowitz here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-dubowitz-746301
The most vocal opponent of a Iranian supported Syrian military is Israel, Syria’s Southwestern neighbor. For decades Iran has stated unequivocally that it views Israel as an enemy and has expressed hostile intentions clearly. The Iranian forces’ proximity to Israel has given Western nations enough cause for alarm that the US intelligence agencies have increased use of satellite and surveillance aircraft monitoring along the border to identify Iranian forces and ballistic missiles hiding within the country.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been equally opaque about their determination to prevent an Iranian military stronghold from building up so close to their territory. The Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman stated: “We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily.” Western powers are in agreeance that Iranian weapons in Syria do pose a legitimate threat to the country’s security, but there are fears that a preventative strike would set off a powder keg–sending both countries to war and dragging along their web of allies with it.