The commanding general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser, Gen. Hossein Hamadani, said that: “The Iranian military leaders have freed 85% of Syrian territory from the opposition forces at a time that even Bashar Al-Assad had accepted defeat” (in practice, what the Revolutionary Guard had done is the occupation and not liberation of Syria).
Hamdani said that “there is currently two axes in the region, on the one side there is American, European and Arab and the second axis is an Iranian axis which is standing up to the world.”
He added that: “America wants to divide Iraq to three provinces and Syria into two states, and Iran into five.”
Hamdani revealed in a statement made last week, that “the Iranian Revolutionary Guards began the establishment of new fighting centers in Syria called Kashab made up of young Alawites and Sunnis, Christians and Ismailis,” as he put it.
These centers are aimed at what he called “ideological education,” so as to “recruit teenagers to fight in Syria within an Iranian Revolutionary Guard militia.”
He said the establishment of the Basij Hamdani (Basij Force) in Syria is Iran’s most important achievements over the past years, saying that “after Lebanon and Syria, the Basij will be organized in Iraq, too.”
The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has revealed in the past the composition of 42 Brigades and 138 battalion fighting in Syria in favor of Assad, and claimed that these forces are made up of elements from “Sunnis and Shiites.” It came as he announced the formation of a “Hezbollah Syrian branch.”
The Basij stands for “Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed” is a paramilitary volunteer militia established in 1979 by order of the Islamic Revolution’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The Basij are set up as subordinate to, receiving their orders from, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to whom they are known for their loyalty. They have also been described as “a loosely allied group of organizations” including “many groups controlled by local clerics.” They have a local organization in almost every city in Iran.
Iran’s military power is increasing in Syria since the Arab Spring. The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad would have collapsed a long time ago if it were not for the enormous military and economic support provided to it by the Iranian regime since March 2011.
The Iranian regime’s military involvement in the current war in Syria gradually grew from providing strategic and technical support to Syrian regime forces against the mass popular protests to being in overall control of the Syrian regime’s military strategy and directing all its major military campaigns.
While Syria is viewed as a bone of contention since on the one hand Turkey desires to control it under its sphere of influence and currently Iran is parking in it. So will Syria cause friction between the two?
Certainly, the Iranian–Turkish rivalry is an enduring one, underpinned by civilizational competition and a complex mutual history, sectarian suspicions and even, occasionally, intense ideological discord. At the same time, however, there is much that could bring Turkey’s AKP government and Iran together.
While many argue that the Arab Spring has strained the relationship, one cannot ignore to see that both parties have acted pragmatically, suppressing the urge to indulge in an all-out competition over regional spoils, influence and trade and neither party questions the legitimacy of the other.
Sure, one can find loud talk, but in action the two manage the relationship, maintain a modicum of amity and work together. Any complexities in the past between the two nations where between an Islamist revolution of Iran and the secular Kemalists of Turkey. Now that ‘secularism’ in the Turkish government is a mask that is worn for westerners, reality is that Turkey and Iran are getting closer than before and Turkey even articulated positions that mirror Tehran’s. Erdogan rejected US objections to Turkey’s energy cooperation with Iran. Turkey also imports 40% of its oil needs from Iran, its single largest supplier.
Where Syria goes, to the Turkish sphere of influence or continue to remain Iranian is unknown. Iran could double down in Iraq in an attempt to compensate for ‘its loss of Syria’ by extending its sphere of influence at the expense of Turkish commercial and political interests. As Iraq breaks to 3 provinces, Iran, the bear, could have all three ribs in its mouth while Turkey controls Syria and give up its focus towards Mosul. With the future fall of ISIS, it is as if the two Islamist giants are having their own Sykes-Picot. While many think that Turkey and Iran could enter into a conflict, Tehran is likely to continue to avert a showdown with Turkey, whose current government is far more willing to cut deals than any of its predecessors.