Six years into the crisis in Syria, Iran sees the outcome of the conflict as shaping the new Middle East. It was Iran’s first overt foreign intervention in decades, one that some Iranian ideologues have called a war for existence. Iranian officials say it spared the Islamic Republic from having to fight a similar war within its own borders. Yet it has been costly, draining and merciless in terms of material losses, and even worse when it comes to Iran’s image in the Muslim world. It has limited Iran’s options and has caused alliances — notwithstanding the common ground Iran shares with its partners — to seem very shaky and fragile.
“Iran learned a lot from these years,” an Iranian military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The source said the conflict in Syria has not been a traditional war where things can easily be anticipated: “The mandate was changing from one day to another. When Iran decided to take part in the war via our military advisers, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was on the verge of falling. More than 70% of the country was under [the control of] terrorist groups who were enjoying widespread international, regional states’ and popular support. Today, President Assad has the upper hand, and the world knows well that he’s the only choice for those who seriously want to defeat terrorism. Yet this is not the final phase.”