Iran did not export the Islamic revolution to Syria and neither did the Baathists export aetheism to Iran and yet they look like they are joined in the hip. Something other than religion has brought these two dissimilar countries together. A brief about Iran-Syria relations:
Since 1979, the alliance between Syria and Iran has had significant impact in both shaping Middle East politics.
Syria and Iran are the two parties most responsible according to US analysts for spoiling U.S.-backed peace efforts between the Arabs and Israel in order to promote their own Arab and Islamic interests. For the United States, they were also the most troublesome countries during the U.S. intervention in Iraq because they aided, abetted or armed insurgents.
The two regimes share common traits. They are both defiantly independent, even at a political or economic cost. Iran is predominantly Shiite. Although Syria is predominantly Sunni Muslim, its ruling family is Alawite, a Shiite sect.
Syria’s Baa’thist ideology is strictly secular and socialist. Iran’s ideology is rigidly religious and, in principle, opposed to atheist communism and its offshoots. Yet their common strategic goals have held the alliance together for three decades, despite repeated attempts to rend them apart.
The Iran-Syria alliance grew out of common cause—and common enemies. Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, these two countries combined their will and intelligence to build a network of surrogate militias and frustrate the plans of opponents. Together they ensured Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which bordered both countries, would not become the predominant regional power. They forced U.S. peacekeepers out of Lebanon in 1984, and thwarted Israel’s effort to bring Lebanon into its orbit during an 18-year occupation that finally ended in Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2000.
Together they also stand a better chance of achieving their long-term goals. Syria wants to regain the strategic Golan Heights, lost to Israel in the 1967 War, and keep its veto power over Lebanese politics. Iran wants to be the preeminent regional player in the Persian Gulf and ensure its allies rule in Iraq.
The height of Syrian-Iranian power 1982-1985
After Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and rout of Syrian forces there, Syrian President Hafez Assad enlisted Iran’s influence among the Lebanese Shiites to wage a campaign of attacks against their mutual opponents in Lebanon.
Common enemy Saddam Hussein’s Iraq 1988-1991
Cooperation focused on checking Iraqi power and crushing President Michel Aoun’s anti-Syrian revolt in Lebanon in 1988-1989. During the 1990-1991 Gulf War against Iraq, Syria contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition and Iran remained neutral.
Alliance cooperation in the post-Cold War period 1991-2003
As the Cold War ended and the United States became the world’s dominant power, Tehran and Damascus grew increasingly important to each other. They collaborated in arming and abetting Hezbollah and Hamas to pressure Israel, as well as to influence events in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Their aid was instrumental in enabling Hezbollah to wage a guerrilla campaign throughout the 1990s against Israel, which withdrew in 2000.
Alliance after the 2003 Iraq war
Cooperation between Iran and Syria increased markedly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both countries welcomed the ouster of Saddam Hussein, their mutual foe. But the speed of the U.S. military victory also initially raised fears that either Iran or Syria might be the next target in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.”
An enduring alliance
The Syria-Iran alliance has survived in part because it has been primarily defensive in nature. For three decades, it has been aimed largely at neutralizing Iraqi and Israeli capabilities and preventing American encroachment in the Middle East. Defensive alliances which have fixed and limited objectives are often more durable.
Their distinctive ideological differences, ironically, have also helped the relationship endure. Syria and Iraq were intense political rivals, and often came close to military blows, because they shared the same Baa’thist ideology. The political elites in Tehran and Damascus were never competing.
Iran has vied for leadership of the Islamist bloc in the Middle East and beyond, a role in which secular Syria has no interest. Syria has long sought to be “the beating heart of Arabism,” a role in which Iran, a non-Arab country, has no interest. Except for a brief period of rival ambitions in Lebanon, the two countries have never been in competition—ideologically, economically or militarily. Neither has tried to upstage the other.