With Assad losing in Syria, his Iranian allies have declared they are doubling down. Reuters reports:
“The Iranian nation and government will remain at the side of the Syrian nation and government until the end of the road,” [Iranian] state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying on Tuesday in a meeting with Syria’s parliament speaker in Tehran.
“Tehran has not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria.”
The visit by speaker Mohammad al-Laham is the latest in a series of high-level visits between Damascus and Tehran, reflecting close coordination as the pressure on Assad has mounted.
And the Iranians are backing words with action. Earlier this week, the leader of the elite Quds force announced that the world would be “surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days”. Today, reports are emerging just what he had in mind. A daily Lebanese paper is reporting that as many as 20,000 troops are massing for an assault on Idlib province, where pro-Assad forces have faced serious setbacks at rebel hands in recent weeks.
15,000 of the troops are reported to be Iranian, with the balance “Iraqi” and “Lebanese”. The original report goes on to say that “the mobilization in northern Syria is unprecedented [with regard to] Iranian and Iraqi presence in Syria since the outbreak of the war on [the country] four years ago. […] A mobilization of this size registers as a break from the undeclared Iranian-Turkish understanding, that direct and exposed confrontation between the two countries in Syria is to be avoided.”
Events in Syria are likely to accelerate in terms of direct involvement by interested parties and, consequently, their strategic implications. Washington, having been caught flat-footed so many times by twists and turns in this conflict, would do well to start preparing for how to deal with that.