Understanding the Syrian Minister of Defense’s Visit to Iran – The Arab Wall
Understanding the Syrian Minister of Defense’s Visit to Iran

Understanding the Syrian Minister of Defense’s Visit to Iran

Iran and Syria aim to achieve multiple objectives through the visit of the Syrian Minister of Defense to Tehran. Foremost among these goals is the reaffirmation of Iranian support for the Syrian regime, marking the thirteenth anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian conflict on March 15, 2011. Additionally, they seek to bolster coordination in response to ongoing Israeli military attacks inside Syria, engage in discussions concerning recent understandings between Iran and the United States, and affirm continued support for Hezbollah in the event of an open military confrontation with Israel.
The significance and momentum of the visit by the Syrian Minister of Defense, Major General Ali Mahmoud Abbas, to Tehran on March 16th, are underscored by several factors. These factors include its timing coinciding with the thirteenth anniversary of the Syrian crisis, the escalation of Israeli attacks targeting sites associated with the Syrian regime and Iran within Syria, and the growing likelihood of a new conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Furthermore, the ongoing Turkish-American rapprochement adds another layer of complexity, potentially impacting security arrangements Ankara is working to formulate within Syria in the near future.

Multiple Objectives
The extensive schedule of meetings for the Syrian Minister of Defense, Major General Ali Mahmoud Abbas, suggests that Tehran holds particular significance for this visit. During his visit, the Syrian official held discussions with Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri, and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Akbar Ahmadian. It is evident that Iran and Syria aim to achieve multiple objectives through this visit, with the most prominent being:

1- Promoting Iranian Support for Syria: The timing of the visit coincided with the thirteenth anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian conflict on March 15, 2011. This timing holds significant weight as it signifies Iran’s steadfast commitment to ongoing military cooperation with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Furthermore, the visit may carry implications regarding ongoing dynamics with other involved powers, notably Russia. Iran aims to solidify its position as the primary supporter of the Syrian regime, having swiftly intervened to prevent its collapse. This aligns with the broader context of competition between Iran and Russia to assert influence on the ground in Syria, based on the extent of support provided to the Syrian regime.

2- Continued Coordination Regarding Israeli Attacks: Tehran and Damascus aim to maintain military and security coordination through these visits concerning the attacks conducted by Israel within Syrian territories. These attacks primarily target sites associated with the Syrian regime, Iran, Hezbollah, and pro-Iranian militias. The frequency and intensity of these attacks escalated notably following the outbreak of the Israeli conflict with Gaza on October 7th of the previous year. Israel’s objectives include reducing Iran’s support for affiliated militias and obstructing the ongoing flow of weapons from Iran to Syria, ultimately destined for Hezbollah. This has led to sporadic clashes between Hezbollah and Israel since October 7th.

It was noteworthy that Israel deliberately conducted new military strikes coinciding with the visit, targeting two sites in the countryside of Damascus on March 17th. One of these sites was a weapons depot, signaling Israel’s readiness to escalate further and disrupt the ongoing military cooperation between Iran and Syria, which it perceives as a primary target.

In response to these attacks, Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani affirmed during his meeting with his Syrian counterpart that “deterring Israel is important,” indicating that “there are plans and urgent actions for that.” This suggests that the two states may anticipate further agreements regarding military cooperation, particularly concerning air defense systems.

3- Discussion of Iranian-American Understandings: The visit coincided with reports emerging about secret and indirect talks between Iran and the United States in the Sultanate of Oman on January 10th of the previous year. While both Iran and the United States are keen to downplay the significance of these reports, it cannot be denied that there are indeed understandings reached by the two countries. This is evident in the reduction of attacks by Shia militias loyal to Iran in both Iraq and Syria against American bases in these countries, following the military strikes carried out by the United States against the sites of these militias in response to the attack on its base in northeastern Jordan, “Al-Burj 22,” on January 28th of the previous year.

The visit presented an opportunity to discuss the continuation of these understandings, at least for the time being. These agreements ensure that Iran refrains from direct involvement in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, while the United States avoids the risks associated with direct engagement in a broader war, which doesn’t align with its current interests, particularly with the upcoming US presidential elections on November 5th.

It’s worth noting that concurrent with the visit, Shia militias loyal to Iran have shifted their focus, targeting Israeli bases instead of American ones. On March 17th, the so-called “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” claimed responsibility for an attack on an Israeli airbase in the Golan Heights. This trend might continue in the foreseeable future, especially as Israel persists in its military operations in Gaza and potentially prepares for an incursion into Rafah.

4- Confirming Support for Lebanese Hezbollah: Despite efforts to resolve the escalating crisis between Hezbollah and Israel, influenced by the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip, there remains a push from the United States and other parties for Hezbollah to relocate north of the Litani River. However, this has not diminished the possibility of military confrontations between the two parties escalating into direct war. Israel’s preparations for a potential invasion of southern Lebanon are evident, a course of action now seriously considered by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. This compels these parties to maintain coordination to address the potential consequences. Therefore, recent actions by Iran can be interpreted in this context. In addition to ongoing meetings with Syrian officials, Quds Force Commander Ismail Qaani visited Beirut and met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in February of last year, marking the third meeting since the outbreak of the Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip.

From the perspectives of Tehran and Damascus, a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah would differ fundamentally from that involving Israel and Hamas, given Hezbollah’s crucial importance for both capitals. This underscores the necessity for continued coordination on security and military matters.

Renewed Strikes
These visits and arrangements are likely to prompt Israel to further expand the scope of its attacks inside Syria, preparing for the possibility of a new war in the near future. Israel aims to undermine Iranian influence within Syria, dissuade the Syrian regime from intervening to provide additional support to Hezbollah, and monitor the smuggling routes utilized by the latter to procure more weapons smuggled from Iran through Iraq and Syria.