Soleimani cuts a ‘path to the sea’

Commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force Qassem Soleimani in Tehran.

2017/09/10 Issue: 122 Page: 4

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- The land bridges that Iran is building across Iraq to Syria would greatly ex­tend Tehran’s control of the region and dramati­cally change the strategic balance in the Middle East as the United States disengages from the region.

It is largely the brainchild of Major-General Qassem Soleima­ni, commander of al-Quds Force, which spearheads the Islamic Re­public’s expansionist ambitions, fulfilling the late Ayatollah Ruhol­lah Khomeini’s edict to spread his Islamic Revolution throughout the Muslim world.

The project envisages at least two corridors running approxi­mately 1,400km from Iran’s west­ern border through the Euphrates and Tigris valleys to the Syrian-held sector of the Golan Heights in southern Syria, a strategic plateau that has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

The northern route was planned to run through the frontier town of Jalawla in Iraq’s Shia-dominated Diyala province east to the town of Shirqat, then push into Syria through the mountainous Tal Afar and Sinjar regions, currently held by pro-Iranian Kurdish factions.

Recent gains by US-supported factions in north-eastern Syria forced Soleimani to divert this route 225km south to avoid the American forces battling the Is­lamic State (ISIS).

That corridor will now run through Syria’s energy-rich Deir ez-Zor province to across the east­ern desert to the ancient city of Palmyra and then to the Lebanese border, ensuring Hezbollah of an uninterrupted supply of weapons.

Iranian-backed regime forces have captured part of ISIS-held Deir ez-Zor city in a major offen­sive and expect to drive the jihad­ists out completely.

One leg of the route, Syrian of­ficials said, would extend to the Mediterranean port of Latakia, a stronghold of the Damascus re­gime, which the Iranians would develop as a maritime link and additional supply line, allowing them to avoid the Arabian Gulf dominated by the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Iranians call this route “the path to the sea.”

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

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