“Weaving the carpet”: Iran’s strategy in Syria in support of the government of Bashar al-Assad

“Weaving the carpet”: Iran’s strategy in Syria in support of the government of Bashar al-Assad

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The recent attacks by the United States, the United Kingdom and France against Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Bashar al-Assad have further tensed the confrontation between the West and Russia.

Moscow has been a faithful international ally of Damascus in its fight against the rebels, both diplomatically and militarily.

But from the Middle East perspective, in Syria there is a much more predominant force: Iran.

“Iran has built bases in Syria, sent thousands of troops as military advisers and helped recruit, train and arm fighters from other Muslim countries,” explains Ebrahim Khalili, editor of the BBC Persian Service.

This is not officially recognized by the government in Tehran but “in the unofficial press, it boasts of its achievements in Syria, ” says Khalili.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei (center), denounces the attacks of the West against Syria
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei (center), called the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and France “criminals”.

It has also provided financial assistance to the Al Asad government in the form of “credit lines of between US $ 10,000 million and US $ 15,000 million, supplies of cheap or free oil and technical assistance for its power plants”.

According to the BBC correspondent in the region, Matthew Price, there is a phrase that is used to describe that strategy: Iran is “weaving the mat”. Literally means that and is slowly interweaving within the structure of Syria .

Close relationship

The close ties between Damascus and Tehran can be traced back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, was the first Arab leader to recognize the new Islamic Republic of Iran .

Hafez al Asad and the then president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, in 1997
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The bonds of friendship between the two countries go back to the time of Hafez al Asad, the father of Bashar.

Although the Sunni branch of Islam is majority in Syria, the Asad family is Alawite, much more in line with the Shia branch that prevails in Iran.

That relationship alarms Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power in the Middle East, which for decades has maintained a confrontation with Iran over regional supremacy.

The battle front of Iran

Although the Syrian civil war has increased these tensions and the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, Ebrahim Khalili assures that Iran’s strategy in Syria is not only religious but also geopolitical.

“Since 1979 , Iran’s first objective has been to fight against Israel,  says the BBC Persian Service editor.

Protesters in Iran, advocate the destruction of Israel
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Iran does not recognize Israel and one of its declared objectives is its destruction.

The Islamic Republic not only does not recognize the State of Israel, but has confronted it wherever it could, says Khalili.

Hence, Syria has become one of the fronts of Tehran’s strategy.

Presence “for good”

On Iran’s state television, they referred to the US, UK and French attacks as a “flagrant act of aggression,” stating that they were carried out after a week of propaganda about the alleged use of chemical weapons.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, called the leaders of those three countries “criminals”.

“The Iranians have no doubt that the Syrian government did not carry out a chemical attack,” Professor Mohammed Morandi of the University of Tehran told the BBC.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi (center), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran, visits the recently resumed city of Aleppo, in 2017
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Alaeddin Boroujerdi (center), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran, visited the newly-retaken city of Aleppo in 2017

“Iran has no doubt that the British, French and Americans know very well that the Syrian government did not carry out a chemical attack,” the scholar said.

Morandi, who has close ties to the Iranian leadership, argued that Tehran only became involved in Syria after 2013, when tens of thousands of foreign fighters, mostly extremists, were already destabilizing the country.

According to him, Iran has been increasing its influence and presence in Syria these years “for good”.

“If Syria had collapsed because of those foreign fighters and the extremist groups that were being financed by foreign forces and countries, including the West, we would not have a Syria now, and we probably would not have an Iraq, and probably not a Lebanon either.”

A Syrian teenager hoists an Iran flag aboard a truck carrying supplies to Deir Ezzor
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Iran has supported the takeover by the Assad government of several locations in Syria, including Deir Ezzor, Aleppo and East Guta.

“Iran will remain in Syria until the territory that is controlled by the extremists is returned to the State,” the analyst said.

But that is not Israel’s perspective.

“Existential threat”

“The Iranian Shiite influence that extends from Tehran to Lebanon and even to the Sunni Gaza, today, has created a strategic threat and, some say, existential for the Jewish state,” Dan Diker of the Center for Human Rights told the BBC. Public Relations in Jerusalem.

“Defense officials and Israeli military strategists are very aware of the Iranian race to achieve supremacy in the Middle East,” he added.

Western intelligence analysts told the BBC in November 2017 that Iran was establishing a permanent military base in Syria , despite warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel is not going to let that happen,” Netanyahu said at the time.

Although Israel refuses to confirm it, Israeli warplanes have carried out several missions in recent months against targets in Syria.

A satellite image of the T4 / Tiyas air base, located in central Syria.
Copyright of the GOOGLE / DIGITALGLOBE imageImage caption According to the Syrian authorities, Israel attacked this air base in the center of the country.

The most recent was on April 9, when Syria denounced an attack on a military airport in which 14 people died, including several Iranian paramilitaries.

Ebrahim Khalili, of the Persian Service of the BBC, believes that these paramilitaries were buried in Iran as martyrs.

“Iran’s leaders have expressed that their geopolitical interests go far beyond their own borders,” Khalili explains.

“From their point of view, they can not wait for the enemy to come to them, they have to go fight it where they are.”

It is a strategy that has ben eficiosa for the government of Bashar al – Assad . The presence and intervention of Iran has allowed him to secure Aleppo, the second city of Syria, and, more recently, Guta Oriental, near Damascus.

But, the idea of Iran’s influence spreading from Tehran to the shores of the Mediterranean in Lebanon, where Tehran’s allies, the extremist Hezbollah group, is a prominent force, is a picture that worries many.

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