May 3, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Intensifies Ties with Syria

May 3, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Intensifies Ties with Syria

Latest Developments

Tehran and Damascus signed long-term cooperation agreements related to oil and other sectors on May 3 during a visit to Syria by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The deals marked an effort to strengthen economic ties between the two allies, which have long cooperated to suppress Syria’s uprising since 2011, resulting in more than half a million deaths. Raisi’s trip was the first visit to Syria by an Iranian president since 2010, although Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has visited Tehran twice during the war, including a trip last year during which he met both Raisi and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

According to Iranian state media, Tehran and Damascus signed a total of 15 agreements in a variety of fields, “including trade interaction, oil and energy industries, technical and engineering sectors, house construction, railroad and air transportation, free trade zones, private sectors, telecommunication, earthquake safety, rescue operation, and facilitation of pilgrimage.”

Expert Analysis

“Raisi’s visit and embrace of Assad is a potent reminder of Tehran’s complicity in the full range of the Syrian regime’s war crimes and atrocities. During 12 years of civil war, Iranian leaders’ support for Assad has not wavered. Rather, Tehran has spent tens of billions of dollars to keep Assad in power while the Iranian people suffer the consequences of mismanagement and corruption.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research

Iran Seeks Return on Costly Investment in Syria

Propping up the Assad regime has been extremely expensive for Tehran. An Iranian lawmaker estimated in 2020 that the effort cost between $20 billion and $30 billion. Periodically, Tehran has sought to recoup some of these costs, yet these efforts have rarely been successful, in part because Russia has proven more successful at extracting concessions. Thus, keeping Assad in power represents a continued drain on Tehran’s resources.

Syria’s Normalization in the Region

Raisi’s visit comes at a time when Arab governments are renewing engagement with Assad. Arab League states that cut ties with Assad 12 years ago for his torture, mass executions, and destruction of Syria have started to repair their relationships over the past two years. In April, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad received a warm welcome in Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia reestablished diplomatic relations with Damascus. Last year, the United Arab Emirates welcomed Assad to Abu Dhabi, the first time in over a decade the Syrian leader had visited a foreign capital other than Damascus or Tehran.

Washington’s Misguided Support of Assad’s Rehabilitation

Rather than isolating Assad and ensuring that his regime remains a pariah, the Biden administration has quietly encouraged Syria’s normalization. In March, Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said in an interview: “We advise our friends and partners in the region that they should get something in return for this engagement with Assad.” Assad’s rehabilitation has only come this far because the administration gave his neighbors the green light.

Israel Strikes Iranian Weapons at Aleppo Airport Ahead of Raisi’s Visit,” FDD Flash Brief

Biden is quietly encouraging Assad’s rehabilitation. He should reverse course.” by David Adesnik


Iran Iran Politics and Economy Syria