Hundreds of Iranian troops have made their way to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. The Iranian military offensive comes in the wake of the first Russian airstrike in Syria against anti-Assad rebel movements.
According to a Syrian official, “The (Russian) airstrikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies. It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside.”
Russia conducted its first airstrike inside Syrian territory on Wednesday. In the coming days, the elite Russian air force rained bombs on territory occupied by anti-Assad rebels. The airstrikes will be supported by a ground offensive spearheaded by hundreds of Iranian soldiers alongside Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. A majority of them only flooded into Syria in the last 10 days.
According to the official, “The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisors … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more.”
Previously, direct Iranian support for Assad only came in the form of military advisors. Iran also marshaled Shi’ite militia fighters, Iraqis and Afghans included, to fight alongside Syrian army forces. Lebanon’s Hezbollah is the only group to have fought alongside Assad since early in the conflict.
The joint battle points to a new alliance between Russia and Syrian President Assad’s sympathizers: Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. The alliance’s main goal is to recapture huge swaths of land lost to rebel movements.
The Russian airstrikes targeted the towns of Homo and Hama, in the west of Syria. The towns form the center bases for anti-Assad rebels, who reports indicate are western backed. The strikes did not target ISIS controlled towns, many of which are in the north and east.
Insurgent groups such as the Ahrar al-Sham alliance and the al Qaeda linked Nusra Front are also in the north, in the province of Idlib.
Russia’s involvement in Syria points to a greater geopolitical picture where the soviet east is teaming up with anti-U.S. administration in the Middle East. The result will be a weakened U.S. influence in the Middle East, benefitting Russia.