Even though the Assad regime and its allies are all in agreement to fight against all the other parties, a strong conflict of influence exists among them, the manifestation of which is very clear on the ground.
Russian troops control the Syrian coast. Moscow has two military bases. The first is in Tartus, granted in 1970 by Assad’s father. It has been expanded in the last three years to accommodate more ships and troops in order to support the regime. The second base in Hmeimim has been created in 2015, at the time of direct Russian intervention. Moscow also extended its influence to the city of Tartus, its countryside and areas northeast of Homs. Soon after the occupation of Halab, Moscow quickly moved Russian and Chechen military forces.
Iran has been engaged in the Syrian conflict since the first day of the revolution. It already existed in the Syrian territory long before the revolution, supporting Assad, a fact that allowed it to create a private military base south of Halab in 2007 in the area of Sfirah. After the increasing losses in Assad’s “forces”, Iranian elements’ penetration into the Syrian territory has increased by establishing zones of influence, especially within the Shiite community areas, mainly in southern Damascus and Halab northern countryside, as well as fixed points in the heart of the capital, Damascus. They also created a base for their operations in Damascus International Airport, in addition to the one in the northern countryside of Daraa.
The conflict of influence among the supporters of the Assad regime reached even the militias supporting it, with the most important of them being the terrorist Lebanese militia Hezbollah which has been directly involved in the Syrian crisis from the very first days. Hezbollah created a sphere of influence stretching along the Syrian-Lebanese border from southern Homs and Damascus countryside to the north. The organization also established military points in the far south, close to the Golan Heights.
Amid this silent struggle for spheres of influence between his allies, Assad turned into a puppet just to stay in power. Geographical proximity and conflict of interest increased tension among his allies, making the conflict more visible especially in some critical points like Damascus, where Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah elements are heavily present, each planning to take the biggest share of the city.
However, after the anti-Iranian newly-elected US administration under President Donald Trump, it is likely that Moscow will increase its influence over the capital, Damascus, and Syria in general, making that of Iran weaker.
Eva J. Koulouriotis is Greek political analyst specialized in Middle East. Twitter: @evacool_f, Facebook: @evakoulouriotis