Through its deployment of affiliated militias across Syria, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seeks to create a permanent state of instability that will enable it to further its own interests, experts said.
The IRGC has been fomenting instability in Syria by fostering a culture of sectarianism, which exacerbates divisions among the Syrian people, they said.
"The events in Syria presented a golden opportunity to the IRGC to continue its spread and control," Aleppo media activist Faisal al-Ahmad told Diyaruna.
The IRGC exploited the war in Syria from the outset by sending in affiliated militias from Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, he said, and later formed Syrian militias that operate under the full control of the IRGC command.
There are many goals behind the Islamic Republic's intervention in Syria, he said, including its ambition to secure a land route that links Tehran with Beirut.
"The map of the IRGC's presence on the ground includes many key sites that contain oil, phosphate or other precious metals," he noted, pointing to the economic benefits Iran expects to reap from its involvement in the crisis.
The proliferation of Iran-affiliated militias also opens up a large market for Iranian goods in these parts of Syria, al-Ahmad said, through which the IRGC is attempting to shore up the distressed Iranian economy.
IRGC-affiliated militias operating in Syria include the Iraqi Imam Ali Brigades, Hizbullah al-Nujaba Brigades, Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions, al-Abdal Movement, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade and Zulfiqar Brigade, al-Ahmad said.
Iran-backed Lebanese militias fighting in Syria include Hizbullah and Saraya al-Tawhid, he added, along with the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade and the Pakistani Zainabiyoun Brigade.
Affiliated Syrian militias include the Sayyida Ruqayya Brigade, Force 313, al-Ghaliboun: Saraya al-Muqawama al-Islamiyah fi Suriya and al-Zahraa Battalion.
The IRGC aims to "divide and conquer" in Syria, Lebanon and other countries where it wants to ensure its influence, said al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Fathi al-Sayed, who specialises in Iranian affairs.
To this end, it has focused on establishing military cells to implement its plans by planting the seeds of sectarian incitement, he told Diyaruna.
"After it succeeds in sowing tension, the second phase begins, where these cells morph into armed groups and militias," he said.
In the case of Syria, these militias emerged openly and spread out in most of the areas that saw fighting between regime forces and armed opposition groups.
The IRGC initially reinforced affiliated militias operating in Syria with foreign elements as Syrian fighters were in short supply, he said.
"But seven years into the war, the situation has changed," he said, noting that IRGC-affiliated Syrian militias now have an active presence on the ground.
Situation likely to worsen
Armed militias that operate outside the control of the government are bound to create instability in any country, which is certainly the case with IRGC-controlled militias in Syria, Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah told Diyaruna.
"The instability and continuing tension and division allow the IRGC to exercise control over the resources of the Syrian state," he said.
Even if the IRGC were to announce it was withdrawing its forces from Syria, he said, it would still have a presence there through these militias.
Al-Abdullah warned that the instability stemming from the presence and proliferation of these militias is likely to worsen in the coming period.
Syrian regime forces are reaching reconciliation agreements with opposition groups, which are disarming, he said, while "IRGC-affiliated militias continue to hold on to their weapons, even in areas in which the fighting has fully halted".
This will have an adverse impact on Syrian society, he said, noting that IRGC-affiliated militias will be able to impose control over Syrians by force of arms.
The leaders and fighters who comprise these militias "have full authority to act and move as they please, and the Syrian state and army have no authority over them at all", he cautioned.