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Until recently, very few would have guessed that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad would still be seated firmly in power nearly seven years after the Syrian revolution began. Even more surprising has been Assad’s gradual success in regaining much of the territory he lost to ISIS and rebel groups. On both scores, Iran has played an important role. Along with Russia—one of Assad’s chief allies—Iran’s strategic and military help has prevented the Syrian regime’s fall, and ultimately shifted the war in Assad’s favor.

While Assad may not have “won” yet, he has certainly prevented the opposition from securing victory. Together with Iran and his other allies, Assad has been able to restrain an increasingly dysfunctional and fractured opposition from making further territorial gains. Indeed, had Iran never intervened in the war, the opposition may have potentially advanced toward Damascus and ousted Assad from power years ago. According to a recent Al Jazeera story by Ali Younes and Shafik Mandhai, rebel fighters and leaders largely believe Iran has been the single biggest factor preventing them from succeeding against the regime:

In the summer of 2012, the leading commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were confident that momentum was with them.

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That hope was bolstered by successes on the battlefield, as ragtag groups of fighters coalesced into more effective armed groups, large swaths of the country started to come into rebel control.

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The successes, however, had not gone unnoticed by Syria’s close allies, Iran and the Lebanese armed group, Hezbollah, both of which upped their involvement in the conflict, stemming the rate of rebel advances.

[Fateh] Hassoun [who defected from the Syrian army and commanded FSA troops in Homs at the time] said: “After the Iranian and Hezbollah intervention, the regime started making gains on the ground, especially in the central regions of Homs and Hama.

“Despite the Iranian intervention, the regime and its allies could not win the war, but they were successful in protecting the capital, Damascus, by besieging and keeping the opposition on the periphery of the city,” he added.

Fellow FSA official, Bashar al-Zoubi, who commands the rebel umbrella group’s southern front claimed the Syrian Army was only operating at a quarter of its full strength until the Iranians intervened.

He told Al Jazeera: “The Syrian army had all but collapsed and was operating at about 20 to 25 percent of its previous strength when the Iranians came and brought with them Hezbollah, and Iraqi and Afghan militias, who did most of the fighting on behalf of the Syrian army.”

Zoubi said he believed the opposition would have won the war by early 2013 were it not for Tehran’s involvement.

Read the full article here.

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