Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters are battling their way through the Middle East in a bid to secure a corridor from the Tehran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean.
If secured, the route would be the biggest prize yet for Iran in its involvement in Syria’s six-year-old civil war and would provide unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon for the first time.
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.
Previously, the route has not been possible due to Iraqi resistance, but success would prove to make Tehran a much bigger player in the Middle East but Israel has warned it is merely filling the vacuum left by Islamic State.
The Iranian-backed fighters are currently in central Syrian desert, and 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 held talks Wednesday in the Russian resort of Sochi with President Vladimir Putin, whose country is an ally of Iran and Assad.
According to Netanyahu, Iran’s growing role in Syria poses a threat to Israel, the Middle East and the world.
Talking to Putin, he said: ‘Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing.
‘But the bad thing is, that where the defeated Islamic State group vanishes, Iran is stepping in.
‘We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel.
‘It (Iran) arms terrorist organisations, it sponsors and initiates terror.
‘Iran is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and to a large extent in already in practice in control of Lebanon.’
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.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said it is almost impossible to prevent Iran from achieving its goal, after it spent hundreds of millions of dollars and sent arms and fighters to help keep Assad in power.
‘Iran’s influence in Syria is unstoppable even if Bashar Assad leaves power because Iran has deep links and presence in Syria,’ Abdurrahman said.
‘Had it not been for Iran, the regime would have collapsed in 2013.’
Source » dailymail