Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit last week to China and his upcoming visit to Russia next week highlight what has become increasingly evident: Iran is planning to take over Syria.
Yes, the visit to China was ostensibly about trade agreements – indeed Israel and China signed a $400m trade agreement – and also about increasing China’s role in the Middle East peace process (as if more foreign interference were necessary).
But the visit was about more than diplomatic niceties. Israel is extremely concerned about Chinese missiles being sold or transferred to Iran. Similarly, Chinese missiles have been used successfully by the rebels in Syria, and the danger is ever-present that those missiles could find their way to Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s suddenly scheduled visit to Russia next week to meet President Putin is in order to dissuade Russia from delivering missiles to Syria.
All these missiles and other weapons of mass destruction which are filtering in to Syria from all directions are eventually being used by Iran which in turn has its own expansionist designs on Syria. At the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, former CIA Director James Woolsey writes in “Breaking the North Korea-Iran-Syria nexus“:
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran, the Assad regime, first under Hafez then under his son, has been Iran’s most strategic Arab ally. The two regimes’ relationship has been extensive and has included strengthening the Lebanese Shia terrorist group Hezbollah; military and intelligence cooperation; collaboration with North Korea on developing WMD’s weapons; and procurement from Russia and North Korea. China reportedly also remains a key procurement and transshipment point for Iran. The axis of nuclear proliferation among Damascus, Tehran, and Pyongyang was revealed clearly in 2009 when Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, Ali Reza Asghari, who defected in February 2007, disclosed that Iran financed Syria’s nuclear weapons program, the centerpiece of which was a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. The reality is that Iran’s “line of resistance” in the region – its power – is underpinned by North Korean arms and technology. –
- An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.
- Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.
- Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan.
- In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and Syria. The visit was clandestine and no details were divulged on an official level – except for the exclusive posting on Hizbullah’s official website of a photograph of Khamenei with Nasrallah beside him in the former’s private library, with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini above them.1Suleimani’s involvement in the meeting with Nasrallah was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon.2 He now appeared to be prepared to extend Iran’s control to all of Syria.
In the past, senior Iranian officers, like Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards who is an adviser to Khamenei, have said that Lebanon and Syria gave Iran “strategic depth.”4 Now it appears that Tehran is taking this a step further, preparing for a “Plan B” in the event Assad falls.
All in all, then, Iran will have to step up its military involvement in Syria. Khamenei’s representative in Lebanon will have to take part in building the new strategy in Syria, acting in tandem with Iran against the Sunni Islamic groups that threaten Iran’s interests in Syria.
It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan. For the Islamic Republic, this is a war of survival against a radical Sunni uprising that views Iran and the Shiites as infidels to be annihilated. This is the real war being waged today, and it is within Islam. From Iran’s standpoint, if the extreme Sunnis of the al-Qaeda persuasion are not defeated in Syria, they will assert themselves in Iraq and threaten to take over the Persian Gulf, posing a real danger to Iran’s regional hegemony. Khamenei does not intend to give in. Hizbullah’s readiness to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran against the radical Sunnis could shatter the delicate internal order upon which the Lebanese state is based and bring about a Hizbullah take-over of Lebanon in its entirety.
Read the whole article for an eye-opening, if rather alarming, forecast of what is going on right on our northern doorstep.
If it weren’t for the fact that the outcome will impact on Israel, I would say “May both sides win”. Or lose, come to that. It really makes no difference. Unfortunately it doesn’t spell calm times ahead for Israel.
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war has been spilling increasingly violently into Turkey, culminating in a devastating double car-bomb attack this weekend, killing over 40 Turkish citizens in Reyhanli. The Turks immediately placed the blame on the Syrian regime, but the Syrians denied this.
Whoever is to blame, it is clear that the Syrian civil war is a clear and imminent danger to both Turkey and Israel: the former because the sectarian violence threatens to engulf Turkey; and the latter because of the danger of an Iranian takeover of Syria.
The only way to prevent disaster in the Middle East is for Israel and the West (and I include Turkey in this) to use all the diplomatic and political pressure available in order to persuade the Russians and Chinese to stop selling missiles and other technology to Iran and Syria, and also to work much harder to stop China from enabling North Korea in its malicious endeavours in the Middle East and beyond.