Iran’s growing power could be explosive

A Qiam missile on display during a military parade outside Tehran. (AP)

2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- Iran is poised to consolidate its growing power in the Middle East as it tries to com­plete a strategic land bridge from the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean despite advances in Syria by the United States and its allies.

Having cleared the last obsta­cles for the Shia-controlled corri­dor on the Iraq-Syria border, the Islamic Republic, unlike its ally Russia, plans to remain in Syria permanently and is building military bases in southern Syria, moves that Israel sees as a strate­gic threat.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a pro-Israel Wash­ington think-tank that has been highly critical of the US failure to produce a military-economic strategy to prevent Syria falling apart, said the absence of a US blueprint helped Iran accumulate power.

“Iran has basically created its own foreign legion,” he observed. “You’ve had a variety of Shia militias from other countries… come to the Syria-Iraq theatres. …That’s something that gives it the power to project power sig­nificantly.”

Iran plans to remain in Syria once the war ends to consolidate its expansion across the Middle East, preferably with Bashar As­sad as a puppet president.

Tehran recently recruited thousands of Afghan and Paki­stani Shias — one estimate is as high as 6,000 — swelling its force of Shia mercenaries, which con­stitutes an arm of the Islamic Re­public’s extra-territorial military forces.

Along with Hezbollah’s battle-hardened Lebanese veterans, their main purpose is to regain as much valuable Syrian territory, such as oilfields, as possible be­fore any peace deal is clinched.

“Unless the US commits to pre­venting the march of these forc­es, Iran will be the ultimate victor in the Syrian conflict, thereby ex­panding its influence across the Middle East and setting the stage for future conflict — with both Sunni states and with Israel,” ob­served David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Indeed, this would likely mark not the end of a war but rather the beginning of yet another.”

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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