Islamic Republic of Iran participated in Syria peace talks in Vienna with other regional and international countries to try to end the bloody war in Syria, while Syrian regime and opposition were not invited. Islamic Republic of Iran this time will not talk from the position of strength as it used to be before. Iran’s strategy was only partially successful so far, Iran’s support was important to keep the Assad regime running. However, despite all of its support, Iran were not able to turn the tide of the conflict as a whole to their advantage, which made the Assad regime call on the Russians to intervene in Syria militarily. Moreover, many loyal to Assad regime from the secularists are worried about Iran’s role in Syria, they fear that Iran will create a sectarian environment that will form the future of Syria as they claim.
.Iran backed the Assad regime in Syria military and financially since the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011. Iranian government urged the Syrian regime to use Iran’s tactics that was used to crush the 2009 Iranian protests and this tactic has managed successfully to crush the Iranian peaceful protests. However this tactic did not work in Syria and hasn’t been successful in crushing the protestors during the Syrian uprising in 2011. Tehran didn’t only support Assad regime to stay in power but to maintain its interests in Syria, Iran uses Syria as a safe supply route to Lebanon to support its Lebanese based proxy – Hezbollah with arms.
The continuous Iranian support to the Syrian regime has helped President Bashar Assad to stay in power for sure but it didn’t help him to defeat the Syrian opposition armed groups. Many Pro Regime supporters (mainly Christians and Druze) did not welcome the Iranian intervention in Syria, with Russian military forces now intervening in Syria, now Iran faces the biggest strategic challenges than ever before.
In 2013 when Syrian armed forces and allied pro regime militiamen failed to eliminate the Syrian opposition armed groups, Iran has called on its proxy Hezbollah to join the Syrian war to fight alongside Assad regime forces but they never gained any strategic progress apart from taking control over towns and villages that are close to the Lebanese borders like Qusayr, Yabroud and Zabadani. Many other Iranian Shiite proxies were sent to fight in Syria like Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas, Fatimiyoun Brigade, and other Iraqi Shiite militias to help the Syrian armed forces in battle, and others were locally created and supported by the Iranian IRGC like National Defence Forces, Syrian Hezbollah, Maghawir forces and many others to get involved in counter-insurgency operations.
Iran also played the sectarian card in an attempt to win loyalty in Syria from the Alawite and the small Shiite community unlike Lebanon, which has a major Shiite community. They also launched a huge propaganda campaign calling all ethno-religious to unite and to fight against Takfiri groups [Syrian opposition and Jihadists] that are willing to destabilize the Middle East. This propaganda have made Christians and some middle class Sunnis join and support the Assad regime.
This sectarian project continued by Iran through population transfers, during the battle of Zabadani which ended in ceasefire, Iranians suggested to transfer the Shiite population in Kefraya and Fua to Zabadani and Sunni population living there to Kefraya and Fua which is close to Sunni majority population in Idlib province. The population transfer helpes Iran to consolidate its control over what it considers key areas geographically, which makes it easy to supply the Assad regime and its allies in Syria.
Despite the fact that Iran has appealed to Russia to increase their support to the Assad regime last summer, and this in turn implicit recognition that their strategy did not succeed, Russia itself has not made a major effort to help defeat the Syrian opposition armed groups. Iran has increasingly been forced to acknowledge its losses including at least 4 generals in the past year—with some reports suggesting that twice that number have been killed since their intervention in Syria, Iran has provided few details about any of the deaths but some reports suggest that IRGC lost around 400 members including Generals, officers and soldiers.