The governments of Iran and Syria have signed a pact to strengthen military and defense cooperation.
The deal was signed on Wednesday in Damascus by Iran’s armed forces chief, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, and Syrian Defense Minister, Ali Abdullah Ayyoub. Bagheri said that the military agreement is aimed at “fighting terrorism and countering American pressure.”
Syria was one of the few countries that supported the Iranians during their bloody 1980-88 war with Iraq. And in 2006, the two countries signed a deal cementing their military alliance. They share a disdain for Washington.
“The people and countries of the region do not welcome the presence of the United States, and our response to the American prattling will continue,” Bagheri added in a statement that was carried on Iranian state television.
“We will strengthen Syria’s air defense systems within the framework of strengthening military cooperation between the two countries. Bilateral military and security cooperation is qualitative and ongoing… despite increasing pressure and the mounting severity of threats,” he added with a nod to the U.S. sanctions and the American-led coalition.
Bagheri accused Turkey of dragging its feet in following through on agreements regarding the withdrawal of terrorist groups from Syria. “Turkey must realize that the solution to its security problems is through negotiation with the Syrian side, and not through military deployment in the Arab country,” he added.
Defense Minister Ayoub said, through the Syrian state news agency SANA, that the Syrian-Iranian alliance is both “strategic and firm.” He accused Israel of being behind the terror groups in the country.
Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, including attacks against Iranian forces.
The joint statement said that the continued battle against Takfiri terrorism, supported by some regional and international powers (meaning mainly the United States), is among the goals of the agreement. The term “takfiri” is an Iranian idiom used to refer to Sunni rebels, including the different groups fighting in Syria.
Tehran, which is trying to build up its presence and influence in the region, has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the near decade-long civil war that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Iran has always denied having sent forces to fight in the war, saying it only has military advisors in Syria. But according to the conflict’s watchdog, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Israeli airstrikes have targeted not only government troops but also Iranian forces and fighters from the Iran-backed Hezbollah: The airstrikes have targeted weapons depots, missile manufacturing facilities, and troop concentrations. They have killed hundreds, if not thousands of Iranian troops.
However, Tehran is not the only country that has played a key role in supporting Assad in the civil war. Moscow has been entrenched in the Syrian regime for the past 50 years.
The Russians deployed S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria in October 2018. They then installed more advanced S-400 systems near their west coast bases. Yet, it is believed that the S-300s have been completely ineffective against Israeli airstrikes. It is also been rumored that the Russians have a deal in place with the IDF according to which they will not fire on Israeli aircraft with the S-400s as long as the Israelis are targeting Iranian interests. In return, the IDF will not target any S-400s.
One question that will certainly arise is whether the Syrian agreement with Iran will change the way the Assad regime views its relationship with Russia.
The Iranians are thought to be sending into Syria the third Khordad air defense system, which is based on the Russian S-300. One of those shot down a U.S. drone over Iran about a year ago.
The air defense system’s deployment could have ramifications against the Turks, who have also carried out several airstrikes in Syrian territory. Turkey is ostensibly a partner of Syria, Iran, and Russia in the civil war. However, it has led an incursion into Syrian territory and has entrenched itself around the Idlib area.
The Jerusalem Post wrote a piece on Thursday stating that the system had been brought into Syria once before, two years ago.
“In April 2018, according to a report at Ynet, it was flown into the T-4 base and was destroyed before even being unpacked. Apparently IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was so angered by the destruction of the precious system that he ordered the firing of a salvo of rockets at Israel.”
This deal with Iran will change the landscape of the undeclared air war as it will most certainly increase the likelihood of further Israeli airstrikes in the region.
One thing that is clear is that Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow — as well as Ankara — all want the U.S. coalition to vacate Syria. This new pact between Iran and Syria will not make the nation safer any time soon. Rather, it will probably have the exact opposite effect.