What’s Behind the Syria-Iran Military Pact?
Iran recently announced it had signed an agreement with Syria aimed at countering attacks from the US and Israel. The agreement was signed by Iranian Armed Forces Chief Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub.
The two high-ranking officials from both countries signed on agreement on Wednesday, July 8, making Tehran’s efforts to strengthen Syria’s defense a key part of the deal.
“We will strengthen Syria’s air defense systems and will be improving military cooperation between the two countries,” Bagheri stated as quoted on an Iranian TV station, adding that the agreement will further counter US pressures on Syria.
The Pact Sends a Strong Warning to Israel
The agreement sends a strong alert to those who want to sabotage Tehran-Damascus ties. In early July, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Assad if Syria does not stay away from Iran.
“We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu told reporters alongside with US Representative for Iran Brian Hook.
Iran has been engaged in the Syrian civil war—which has been going on for around 9 years and was triggered by Syrians’ dissatisfaction over the Assad regime—by supporting Assad and anti-Israel militant groups like Hezbollah.
Previously, Iran, Turkey, and Russia held a virtual meeting on the importance of a peace dialogue to end the bloodshed in Syria. The three presidents of those countries back the independence and territorial integrity of Syria and denounce Israel’s strikes.
Syria Reduces Reliance on Russia’s Air Defense
Under the agreement, Syria will not be heavily dependent on Russia’s air defense as Tehran will boost Syria’s air defense system. In 2018, Russia deployed its S-300 in Syria following Israel’s attack on Russia’s jet.
However, a source in Syria’s military told Russia’s media that radars used in the S-300 and Pantisir-S had not effectively detected and hit Israel’s cruise missiles on several occasions.
The Syrian S-300s have yet to be shot at Israeli planes so far due to Russia’s commitment to avoiding confrontation with the Jewish state.
Moscow seems to generally ignore Israeli attacks in Syria and rarely comments on Israel’s actions in the war-torn country. Also, Russia did not want to activate its air defenses, given that there seems to be a secret agreement between Tel Aviv and Washington.
The Iran-Syria military deal will not affect ties between Russia and Iran, given that both sides support Assad.
“Russia will appreciate enhanced Iranian support to strengthen Syria, and will most likely support this cooperation,” Hossein Royvaran, Iranian political scientist and a lecturer told the Nation.
The Agreement Will Not Expel ‘Illegal’ Foreign Troops from Syria
Boris Dolgov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Sputnik that the Iran-Syria deal would not remove “illegal” foreign troops from Syria, referring to the US and its allies.
“Iran has supported Syria in the fight against terrorist groups since the beginning of the internal conflict in 2011 by sending military advisers, IRGC members, and volunteers to strengthen the Syrian armed forces. But there has never been a large Iranian military presence,” Dolgov said.
“Iran helped create a number of armed formations, including the people’s army with 50,000 participants, and provided financial and organizational support to create it. The agreement expands the current forms of military-technical cooperation; it is aimed at enhancing the fight against terrorist groups operating in Syria. Air defense strengthening is an important aspect of that. Israeli Air Forces still attack Syrian military facilities, which are partially used by Iranian forces. The agreement is precisely aimed at strengthening air defense systems to counter these illegal aggressive attacks,” Dolgov added in explanation.