Anticipation surrounds Iran presidential visit to Syria - analysis

Iran backing Syria is expected to be helpful in Syria's hopeful return to the Arab League.

 IRAN’S PRESIDENT Ebrahim Raisi meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran, earlier this month.  (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE / REUTERS)
IRAN’S PRESIDENT Ebrahim Raisi meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran, earlier this month.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is expected to travel to Syria this week. This will be a major visit for the Syrian regime which has been doing heavy lifting in its outreach to regional countries and Russia in recent months. Syria’s foreign minister, for instance, has become a globetrotter, going to Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and other countries.

Syria has been meeting with the Gulf states and Russia. Now Iran will showcase its backing for Damascus. This is important for Syria which wants to return to the Arab League.   

Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi in a surprise 2022 visit to Iran. Assad also visited Iran in 2019, one of his few trips outside the country since the 2011 war began.  

The meaning of Raisi's visit to Syria

The visit by Iran’s president is all about Iran reaching out to showcase how after doing a deal with the Saudis in Beijing, it can shift focus from Yemen to Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s Foreign Minister was recently in Oman and Lebanon. In Lebanon he went south to the Israeli border to threaten Israel. Meanwhile Iraq’s President was in Iran where the Iranian leadership threatened US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.  

Regional media is following the apparent visit by the Iranian president. Anadolu in Turkey noted that this will be “the first visit by an Iranian leader to the Arab country in more than a decade….Iranian Ambassador in Damascus Hossein Akbari said in statements cited by state news agency IRNA that Raisi will be in the war-torn country for a “very important” two-day visit.” Iran sees this as a “turning point.”

According to the reports Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the last Iranian president to visit Syria when he went there in 2010.  

The Iranian presidential visit comes as Iran continues to export weapons via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Iran wants to remove US forces from Syria and Iraq to create an uncontested road to the sea. Iran uses Syria to threaten Israel. Iran has tried to send air defenses and other weapons to Syria in the past.

In Early April Iran launched a drone from Syria targeting Israel. It has also mobilized Palestinian groups in Syria to target Israel in April and in the past has backed a coterie of pro-Iran groups and militias and proxies in Syria to target Israel and target US forces in Syria. Pro-Iran groups have reportedly carried out almost 80 attacks on US forces in Syria.   

The question with the Iranian presidential visit is whether new bilateral agreements will be signed, whether Iran will try to move more weapons and what other ramifications this will have. Syria is also trying to reconcile with Turkey. Iran supports the reconciliations, because it dovetails with Iran’s own reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and also new ties between Bahrain and Qatar and other countries that are seeking a new diplomatic era in the region.