Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan and his Russian and Syrian counterparts, Sergey Shoygu and Fahd Jassem al-Freij, stressed that they will continue joint military efforts against rebel groups in Syria. In a trilateral meeting on Wednesday on the sidelines of the 6th Moscow Conference on International security, the three defense ministers reportedly discussed both military cooperation between the three allies as well as ways to find a political solution to end Syria’s six-year conflict. According to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, the ministers also criticized the recent U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian airbase and accused Washington of supporting terrorist groups in Syria.
In a separate report, Tasnim quotes the Russian defense minister as praising the military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in Syria. “We are satisfied with the level of coordination of joint efforts in Syria and our cooperation in counterterrorism has been completely effective,” Shoygu reportedly said after a bilateral meeting with Dehghan on Wednesday. “Brigadier General Dehqan, for his part, hailed the growing relations between Tehran and Moscow and said what is happening in the Middle East and the world today has made it clear that closer ties between the two countries can have a positive impact on regional and international issues,” Tasnim reported. The two sides also discussed the implementation of the ceasefire that Iran, Turkey and Russia negotiated between Damascus and opposition forces five months ago.
Comment: The recent U.S. missile attack on Syria and a deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington have brought Iran closer to Russia. But that may change in the future as the two countries' vital interests and endgame strategy in Syria are different. The Russian military intervention was instrumental in helping the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-backed militia groups to prevent the fall of Damascus. But now that the Assad regime, particularly after the fall of Aleppo, is in control of key population centers, Russia is apparently seeking to reduce its military role and find a political solution to end the conflict. Iran, however, still favors a military victory and seeks to consolidate the presence of its proxies there for its broader regional agenda – mainly against Israel.
While Tehran in diplomatic forums stresses the need to enforce a ceasefire in Syria and negotiate a peaceful end to the war, its actions on the ground tell a different story. Recently, Iran-controlled forces and the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, have intensified military operations against opposition groups in the Syrian province of Hama. Last month, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) reportedly dispatched large numbers of its combatants – including from the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division – to help the Syrian government forces to recapture areas under the control of rebel groups in the Hama region. Read moreover, accounts of Syria casualties in the Iranian media show that several Afghan Shiite fighters have been killed in Hama in recent days.