Indicators warn of tension between Assad regime and Iran, Has the honeymoon ended?

From Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran - May 2022 (SANA)

From Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran - May 2022 (SANA)


There is increasing evidence of a rift between Iran and the Syrian regime after years of direct support from Tehran to Damascus in the open war against the opposition, based on talks about a possible deal between the head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad and the West.

The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Thursday, May 9, that Iran suspects Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to strike a possible deal with the West against it.

The newspaper added that Iran felt this rapprochement between the West and al-Assad, due to al-Assad’s relatively moderate stance regarding the conflict in the Gaza Strip, indicating that signs of a rift between Tehran and Damascus appeared after Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, killing three senior Iranian officers, including Major General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate, and the intensification of the war on the Gaza Strip, negatively affected Iranian-Syrian relations, as Tehran suspects that the Syrian regime deliberately adopted a neutral stance regarding the conflict between Israel and the Islamic movement Hamas, in order to gain the loyalty of Western countries, according to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

In this reality, Iran decided to move the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps headquarters from the suburbs of Damascus to areas adjacent to Lebanon, due to its doubts that al-Assad is not interested in ensuring the safety of Iranian officers, and it began planning to reduce assistance to the Syrian regime, and evacuate Revolutionary Guard elements from their traditional presence points in Syria.


The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida also published a report, quoting the Supreme Council of National Security of Iran, stating that the Iranian security services submitted a report to the council regarding the possibility of the Syrian regime’s involvement in leaking information to Israel, which contributed to the assassination of top Iranian leaders in Syria.

The report added that al-Assad’s intelligence was obstructing the investigation of the parties behind the leaking of information to Tel Aviv about the meeting of the officers at the Iranian consulate, prompting Tehran to open an independent investigation with the assistance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, showing that the breaches and security leaks that led to the assassination of the leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria, as well as some cadres of Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, enjoy high-level political and security coverage.

The newspaper then mentioned that it is likely that al-Assad was aware of this matter, or that the breach was at the level of the Russian leadership in Syria in cooperation with Syrian intelligence, and in this case, it is also likely that the leaking of information to Israel was with the knowledge of al-Assad.

Neutral stance irks Tehran

Iran felt the existence of rapprochement between the West and al-Assad against it, due to al-Assad’s neutral stance regarding the conflict in Gaza Strip, which annoyed Tehran.

Palestinian researcher Mahmoud Zaghmout told Enab Baladi that al-Assad remained neutral in the Gaza war to receive a reward, either economically through the lifting or easing of American and Western sanctions imposed on him for years, and enhancing early recovery projects in Syria, or through political support at the Arab and international levels.

The website Axios mentioned that the UAE conveyed an Israeli warning to Bashar al-Assad to stay away from the ongoing war in Gaza, and not to allow southern Syria to be used as a launch pad for operations targeting Israel, two days after the operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, 2023.

Has the honeymoon ended?

The leaks about the involvement of the Syrian regime in cooperating with Israel to liquidate Iranian officers in the consulate, and the developments and accusations by Tehran against Damascus for treachery, raise the question of whether the honeymoon between Iran and the regime has ended and the stage of separation has begun.

Another indicator emerged of al-Assad’s restlessness from Iran, through the appearance of voices from the pro-regime Syrians demanding the departure of Iran from Syria, as the pro-regime activist Bashar Barhoum recently attacked the Iranian militias and considered them the main reason behind the suffering of the Syrian people, demanding their withdrawal from Syria.

Barhoum said in an interview with Al-Mashhad channel, that he wishes Israel would contact him to provide them with coordinates of the locations of the Iranian militias and their leaders in Syria, to target them and get rid of them, confirming that he “takes pride in that.”

The Syrian media figure Faisal al-Qasim commented on Barhoum’s statements in an article in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, saying, “If you listened these days to the videos published by Bashar Barhoum, one of the boys of the military intelligence branch, you would be sure that there is something seriously disturbing the relationship between Damascus and Tehran, as it is impossible for Barhoum to go on air describing Iran as the fiercest enemies of the Syrian people and demanding their expulsion from Syria, unless he had a green light from the intelligence.”

Al-Qasim titled his article: “Has the Honeymoon Between the Mullahs of Iran and the Baath of Sham Ended?”, and mentioned that “all indicators point to a kind of transformation in the relationship between the two regimes recently, as the Iranians no longer hide their severe annoyance from the involvement of senior regime officials in the recent Israeli strikes on Iranian sites and leaders on the Syrian territory”.

The tension between Tehran and Damascus has also impacted the economic front, as Iran recently began pressing to recover its debts to Syria, which amount to 50 billion US dollars, by securing investment projects, especially after both parties signed a “strategic cooperation memorandum of understanding” during the recent visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, according to what the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported from informed sources in Damascus.

In turn, the Director-General of West Asia for the Iranian Trade Development Organization, Abdul Amir Rabihawi, confirmed that Tehran’s exports to Damascus have decreased by 50%, despite statements by Iranian officials about the return of funds Iran spent in Syria over the past years, as stated by the Iran International website in a report in March 2024.

Rabihawi stated that Iran’s exports to Syria in 2022 were 244 million dollars, but this figure fell to 120 million dollars in 2023.

The government of the regime pledged to pay only about 18 billion dollars out of the 50 billion dollars Iran spent in Syria, not in cash, but in projects and plans that are technically and economically infeasible, with no guarantees of implementation, according to Iran International.

Over the past years, Iran has obtained many investment contracts in various sectors in Syria, including telecommunications, health, education, energy, banking, construction, agriculture, animal resources, and electricity.

Many of these agreements have not been implemented on the ground, and according to a study issued by the Syrian Dialogue Center in March 2022, Iran’s achievements in the Syrian economy are represented more by lines of credit and loans than by trade. Despite multiple commercial failures, Iran still seeks to enhance the level of trade exchange for several purposes, most notably recovering as much debt as possible and the importance of this exchange for soft power influence needed to develop long-term influence and economic relations.



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