Introduction — Aug 23, 2017
Netanyahu’s spokesman has denounced the steady advance of Iranian backed fighters toward the Mediterranean but Israel has brought this upon itself.
Together with Saudi Arabia and the West, Israel covertly supported the Sunni militants in an effort to oust Syrian President Assad. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had even been photographed with wounded militants who were being treated in Israeli military hospitals in the occupied Golan Heights.
For a time it almost looked as if the Sunni militants, covertly backed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the West, might succeed in bringing regime change to Syria.
However, Russia’s intervention in Syria in September 2015 changed that. Not only did it turn the tide of war in Assad’s favour, it opened the way for Iranian forces with their Hezbollah and Shia allies to start advancing across the Syrian desert toward the Mediterranean.
So Israel is in a sense reaping what it sowed. If it hadn’t tried using proxies in the form of Sunni militants to oust Assad, Russia may not have intervened and Iranian aligned forces might not be advancing across central Syria toward the Mediterranean. Ed
Iran extends reach with fight for land link to Mediterranean
Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zahra — Associated Press Aug 23, 2017
Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters in Syria’s central desert region are advancing east, bringing Tehran closer to its goal of securing a corridor from its border, through Iraq and all the way to the Mediterranean and providing it unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon for the first time.
The land-route would be the biggest prize yet for Iran in its involvement in Syria’s six-year-old civil war.
It would facilitate movement of Iranian-backed fighters between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as well as the flow of weapons to Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy group. It also positions Iran to play a prime and lucrative role in what is expected to be a massive rebuilding effort in both Iraq and Syria, which have been devastated in their ongoing wars.
The potential for a physical artery for Iran’s influence across the region is raising concern in predominantly Sunni Arab countries and in Israel, the nemesis of both Iran and Hezbollah. It poses a challenge to the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight Iran’s growing reach.
The route is largely being carved out by Iran’s allies and proxies, a mix of forces including troops of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah fighters and Shiite militias on both sides of the border aiming to link up. Iran also has forces of its own Revolutionary Guard directly involved in the campaign on the Syrian side.
Concerns over their advances are expected to come up when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds talks Wednesday in the Russian resort of Sochi with President Vladimir Putin, whose country is an ally of Iran and Assad.
The talks will focus “first and foremost (on) preventing Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria,” David Keyes, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said.
“Iran’s aggression in the region continues to grow. The regime is trying to entrench itself militarily on Israel’s border. Israel cannot and will not allow this,” he said. “Any cease-fire which allows Iran to establish a foothold in Syria is a danger to the entire region.”
A corridor would be a boost for Israel’s powerful enemy Hezbollah, which has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. Iran currently ships weapons to Hezbollah mostly by flying them to Syria to be shipped on the ground to Lebanon.
Israel has warned it would do what it can to keep Iran from threatening its borders and has carried out airstrikes in Syria against suspected weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah. Israel pushed hard for a U.S- and Russia-brokered truce that came into effect recently in southern Syria to keep Iranian-backed militias at a distance from the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
The land route is by no means a fait accompli. Any road link will likely be a frequent target by Sunni insurgent groups.
But Iran’s allies are making progress on both sides of the border, taking territory from the Islamic State group.