Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, today met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to further enhance military cooperation and defense ties between the two countries, the Iranian media reported. Bagheri also presented Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s written message to Assad and pointed out that Iran’s leader always pray for the Syrian president’s safety and victory. The top Iranian military official reiterated Tehran’s continued support for the Assad regime and emphasized the need for a “collective strategy” to build upon the latest “major victories” by Damascus and its allies. Bagheri also noted that Iran is keen to play an active role in Syria’s rebuilding. According to Fars News Agency, Assad attributed the latest military gains in the country to the support of Khamenei and the Iranian government and armed forces to his country. “The success in defeating terrorism in Syria dealt a decisive blow to Western plots in the region,” Assad was quoted as saying.
Comment: Bagheri, heading a high-level military delegation, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday and held meetings with his Syrian counterpart Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij yesterday to explore ways of “strengthening the resistance front against terrorists.” The Iranian media said the primary goals of Bagheri’s visit is to assess the situation on the Syrian battlefield and discuss ways of further enhancing military cooperation between the two countries.
Tehran has invested a great deal in blood and treasure to rescue the embattled Assad regime in the past six years. Iranian leaders, particularly the I.R.G.C. commanders, see Syria as a vital conduit to continue to arm Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups against Israel. For Iranian leaders, the fall of Damascus would have meant not just losing a strategic ally, but also regional gains Tehran has acquired over the past decades by attempting to expand its ideological, political and military spheres of influence in the region.
With the Assad regime now in control of most of Syria’s population centers, Iranian leaders have declared victory. But as Bagheri’s trip to Damascus indicates, Tehran seeks to further consolidate its influence in Syria and enhance its military and defense ties with the Assad government. As Bagheri noted, Iran is also seeking to play a major role in Syria’s reconstruction. Iranian companies, including ones owned by or affiliated with the I.R.G.C., have been awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts in Syria’s energy and telecommunication sectors this year.
This is the second foreign trip by Bagheri since his promotion to the top military position last year. In August, Bagheri led a high-ranking delegation to Turkey and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli in Ankara to discuss ways of boosting bilateral defense ties, coordinating joint counterterrorism efforts and reconciling the two countries’ policy differences in Syria and Iraq.