Iran and Syria
- Since 1979, the alliance between Syria and Iran has had significant impact in both shaping Middle East politics and thwarting the regional goals of the United States, Israel and Iraq.
- Syria and Iran are the two parties most responsible for spoiling U.S.-backed peace efforts between the Arabs and Israel in order to promote their own Arab and Islamic interests. For the United States, they were also the most troublesome countries during the U.S. intervention in Iraq because they aided, abetted or armed insurgents.
- The two regimes share common traits. They are both authoritarian and defiantly independent, even at a political or economic cost. Iran is predominantly Shiite. Although Syria is predominantly Sunni Muslim, its ruling family is Alawite, a Shiite sect.
- At the same time, they are odd political bedfellows. Syria’s Baa’thist ideology is strictly secular and socialist. Iran’s ideology is rigidly religious and, in principle, opposed to atheist communism and its offshoots. Yet their common strategic goals have held the alliance together for three decades, despite repeated attempts to rend them apart.
- Syrian president Bashar al Assad has become increasingly dependent on Iran for military and financial support since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
- Despite multiple attempts to wean Syria from Iran, the alliance between Tehran and Damascus remains strong.
- In part by default, Iran and Syria still have strong influence in the region for several reasons: Their militia allies have become major political players, particularly in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Mideast peace efforts have not produced major new pacts since the mid-1990s. And U.S. attention has been focused elsewhere.
- The Assad regime remains Iran’s best bet to protect its interests in Syria. If there is a negotiated political transition, Iran will likely try to keep some elements of the regime in power to maintain its longstanding alliance with Syria.
This chapter was originally published in 2010, and is updated as of August 2015.
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