Playing Both Sides in Syria


During Syria’s “Arab Spring,” isis drastically expanded its power and influence. It did this by supporting Syrian jihadist rebels and later by sending in its own fighters. But remarkably, this rise to prominence was also made possible in part by Iran and Syria—the very forces it was fighting.

Thus, the civil war in Syria is another example of how Iran is willing to fund groups that work against some of its interests in order to reach its overall goals.

Evidence shows Iran supported isis’s endeavors in Syria, despite the fact that the group was fighting against long-time Iranian ally Bashar Assad. Reports also indicate that Assad too was complicit in isis’s rising influence—even though isis was fighting to overthrow his regime. One proof of this came early this year, when an isis defector calling himself Murad told the Telegraph about his experience fighting in Assad’s territory: “We were confident that the regime would not bomb us. We always slept soundly in our bases” (January 20).

Why would Iran and Syria support groups that work against its goals of dominating the Middle East?

Pinhas Inbari, an analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, suggested that the underlying purpose of this alliance, howbeit temporary and fragile, was to compel the West to choose Assad as the lesser of two evils in Syria. Iran wanted the radical Islamist isis to become the face of the “Arab Spring” in Syria. It wanted these extreme radicals to be the ones plastered all over the Western media. And it worked. The radical face of isis helped make the Americans reluctant to arm the rebels in Syria—and it helped preserve Iran’s junior partner in the Middle East, Bashar Assad.

It is not inconceivable that Iran is now using isis again in Iraq—this time to become the undisputed king of Iraq and to increase its clout as a global power.