Nearly two hundred flights have taken off from airfields in the Islamic Republic of Iran to land in Syria since the Iran nuclear deal was announced one year ago, according to publicly available flight-tracking data. These commercial aircraft have almost certainly been ferrying troops and arms that, in conjunction with Russian air strikes and the deployment of thousands of Iranian forces, have staved off defeat for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shook up over 25 years of leadership in the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), the body that oversees both Iran’s conventional forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), when he replaced Major General Hassan Firouzabadi with IRGC Major General Mohammad Bagheri as AFGS Chief on June 28.
The Guardian Council is seeking to disqualify Minoo Khaleghi, a reformist politician who won a seat in the February 26 parliamentary elections. The 12-member body constitutionally charged with managing Iran’s elections annulled her votes in late March, reportedly after photographs circulated online of her without a headscarf. The Guardian Council has long held and exercised the right to vet candidates before elections. This ex post facto disqualification would mark a potentially dramatic expansion of the Council’s ability to control Iran’s managed democracy.
The deployment of elements of Iran’s conventional military, the Artesh, to fight in Syria over the past month was surprising. The Artesh has historically focused on the territorial defense of Iran, and there have been no confirmed expeditionary Artesh deployments to a combat zone since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. The decision to deploy Artesh troops was likely driven in part by the casualties taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) conventional forces
The deployment of Artesh Special Forces to Syria marks an evolution in the constitutionally-defined Artesh mission of defending Iran’s borders. It lays the groundwork for further IRGC-Artesh cooperation in other expeditionary deployments, which would be a significant increase in the combat power the Iranian regime might use in the Middle East beyond its borders. It is too soon to assess the effect of this evolution of the Artesh role on its doctrine and military organization, but it bears focused attention and analysis in the coming months.
Reports are swirling that Russia is finally delivering an advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran, although they may be premature again. The implications of that and the other items on Iran’s military shopping list need our attention fast.
An Iranian military hardware spree can quickly fuel a Middle East arms race, drive U.S. allies to seek more advanced weapons, and, in the case of Israel, spur development of their own.
Soldiers from Iran’s conventional military service, the Artesh, are fighting and dying in Syria. At least three members of the Artesh Special Forces were reported killed on April 11, marking the first time the Artesh has sustained casualties abroad since the Iran-Iraq War. The decision to deploy Artesh forces underscores Tehran’s expanding support to Damascus, discrediting reports that Iran might be pulling forces out of the conflict.