It has poured billions of dollars and hundreds of lives into bolstering President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Yet Iran may struggle for a return on its investment in Syria.
On paper, the Iranian government and entities linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have been granted big economic prizes in Syria — a memorandum of understanding to run a mobile phone operator and a role in one of its most lucrative phosphate mines.
It has been given agricultural lands, and plans to develop university branches. But businessmen and diplomats in Syria say implementing those agreements has been stalled by regime officials more eager to attract Russian and Chinese business — and wary of Tehran’s ambitions to increase its influence.
Businessmen and diplomats in Damascus say regime officials and low-level bureaucrats have sought to gum up Iranian efforts by requesting more paperwork and further discussions.
“They feel like the Iranians want to meddle in everything, so it’s worth it for the Syrians to try to wait them out,” one diplomat said.
Despite its regional might, Tehran can do little to exert pressure, one Syrian businessman argued, given his country’s importance to Iran’s regional strategy: “What can the Iranians threaten us with? To withdraw? The Iranians are stuck with us — and the regime knows it.”
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