Main Researcher: Omar Idlbi
Amjad Al-Maleh, Hazem Beaij
Data collecting team
Malek Al-Khawli, Anwar Abou-elwalid, Nawwar Al-Chebli, Salwa Zeidan, Amjad
Sari, Safa’ Alyan, Ali Dalati, Rania Yehia, Loujein Mleihan, Mohammed Al-Hamed,
and others who wished to remain anonymous.
The special relation between the Syrian regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran began right after the latter’s establishment. Despite Hafez al-Assad’s support for Iran in the war against Iraq, which was led by the second section of the Baath Party, the man made sure to maintain his relation with the Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia. He also made sure that Iran does not have an influence on the Syrian interior(1). However, things have changed, after Bashar al-Assad inherited power from his father, as Iran’s influence spread in the Syrian society, with the rise of teshyi’ activity (converting people to Shiisme) and the establishment of Husseiniyas.
However, this influence remained limited because the regime feared a societal and Arab reaction. With that said, Iran’s influence on the Alawite army and security officers was gradually growing.
After the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia in late 2010 and the removal of Ben Ali, followed by the Egyptian revolution and Mubarak’s impeachment; the Syrian regime was worried about its fate, and with the transition of the Arab Spring to Libya and Yemen, the regime was terrified, and began to fear the possibility of the spring spreading to Syria. So, Iran offered total support to Bachar and its regime and incited him to show no indulgence or concession, however little, in his policy, but rather encouraged him to use violence, in its various forms.
Iran also sent Al-Assad military officers, Internet experts, and sniper soldiers. In fact, Iran considered that an interior conflict in Syria will weaken Al-Assad, thereby opening the door to Iran to interfere in the army, the state apparatus, society and economy, in order to control Syria, alongside Iraq and Lebanon.
The ties of alliance that were once linking Syria and Iran turned into a relation of political subordination and dependency, where Tehran Mullah exercised authority over all Syrian sectors: military, security, economy, politics, and culture, and infiltrated Syria’s institutions, mainly through high-ranking officers, politicians and businessmen. The orders of General Kassem Suleimani (former command of Al-Quds faction affiliated with the Iranian revolution guard corps), prior to his assassination, were taken seriously by the Syrian regime leaders and some of these leaders would consider him Syria’s real governor.
The wide Iranian influence on Syria did not just assume the shape of military-like subordination, but Iran also infiltrated several aspects of the Syrian power to try to dominate them based on planning and on maintaining the influence; something to be taken into account, especially that such influence is likely to remain even after the potential collapse of Al-Assad regime and the establishment of a new government.
The battle of Al-Qassir, in west of Homs early 2013 was the main turnpoint in Iran’s military strategy in Syria. In fact, Iran went from supporting Al-Assad regime forces with logistics and intelligence agents, to its revolution guard officers directly leading the battles and military operations through militias like the Lebanese Hizbollah and other Shi’ite militias like Zaynabioun and Fatimioun.At this point, the Iranian command was not concerned anymore with hiding its participation in the Syrian conflict, so all its policies and strategic planning came to light.
The Iranian role in Syria was not limited to the military aspect, which was the most prominent in the past ten years, but Iran’s activity included tightening control over the main functions of the Syrian state and over society and further infiltrating and influencing all social economic and cultural levels, thus having the most impactful role of the international interventions in Syria and the one that caused the disruption of Syrian society, by creating tension, by supporting sectarian entities at the expense of others, and by changing the social balance.
Due to the major involvment of Iran in Syria’s politics and military affairs, and to the amount of its financial and military investment in Syria, it is hard to believe that Tehran will withdraw from Syria and give up on its influence there, and that it will dismantle its structures on Syrian soil, without it incurring losses and being forced to make huge concessions. This withdrawal will not happen unless there is a definite change in the balance of power inside Syria as well as in its regional neighborhood; especially that the Iranian leadership is not subject to internal accountability, and the same applies to the military leadership, and therefore its losses so far are limited to its regional surroundings.
Due to the danger of Iran tampering with the Syrian social fabric, we try in this study, first of all, to review the reasons for Iran’s interest in Syria, and then to identify the most prominent aspects of this intervention, its tools as well as its effects.
The importance of this study:
This study highlights the danger of demographic changing, and of the hegemony Iran exercised on the political, economic, cultural and educational aspects of the Syrian society, with the support and complicity of the Syrian regime. It also outlines Iran’s ambitions to impose its influence on Syria, and the effects of these policies on the future of Syria and on the composition of its social fabric.
Purpose of the study:
The aim of the study is to show the reasons, aspects and tools of Iranian interference in Syria, to highlight the results of this intervention especially those related to changing the composition of Syria’s society in those 10 years of war, in order draw the right conclusions, and to provide recommendations on the subject of the study.
To achieve the goal of the study, the researcher used several research tools
• Review and follow up on previous studies, research and reports that dealt with the issue
of the Iranian interference in Syria.
• Monitoring and analyzing the changes that occurred in the structure of the Syrian society
and in the main functions of the Syrian institutions, on various levels.
• Making comparisons regarding the demographic situation of the areas covered by the
study before and after the displacement that took place.
• Collecting local data and information about Iran’s area of control and the demographic
changes that occurred as a result of the displacement operations that pro-Iranian militias
• Collecting the tools used by Iran to exercise influence onto Syria’s institutions and
public sectors of and the consequences of such influence..
• Conducting In-depth interviews with activists and residents of the areas of displacement
and demographic change, and other areas over which Iranian forces and their
militias impose their control.
• The data collectors’ difficulty of accessing the regime-controlled areas and moving around them, especially the areas that prohobit the return of displaced civilians, for fear of being targeted by the security forces and pro-Iran militias.
• The inability to access official information and governmental documents that could be used as main references.
• The unavailability of official military or security or demographical information put at the disposal of the data collectors.
• The inability to verify conflicting information about the naturalization of Iranian loyalists in Syria, and their confinement in closed security and military areas, and about the number of converts in Syria.
• The researcher’s dependence on cooperative local data collectors who are not trained in the research field..
• Due to the security risks to the collaborating data and information team, the names of a number of local collaborators have been omitted, while the names of the collaborators who have given their consent have been made public.
It should be noted that the tables of this study, its comparisons, statistics and appendices have been prepared based on information collected by the research team and the local cooperating data collection team, and are considered private sources for the research. As for the numbers and figures contained in these statistics and appendices, they are estimated based on first-hand observations, and open sources, not actual statistics; because the Syrian regime does not allow field studies to be conducted, and because the Central Bureau of Statistics did not publish information or statistics on the subject of the study, during Syria’s 10-year-revolution..
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