Iran General NewsIran expands links with Syrians

Iran expands links with Syrians


International Herald Tribune: Early next year, Syria’s first domestically manufactured cars are scheduled to roll off an assembly line. They will have an Iranian name, be produced in a plant partly financed by a state-controlled Iranian car company and be made of parts from Iran. The International Herald Tribune

By Michael Slackman


Early next year, Syria’s first domestically manufactured cars are scheduled to roll off an assembly line. They will have an Iranian name, be produced in a plant partly financed by a state-controlled Iranian car company and be made of parts from Iran.

Not long after that, Syria hopes to open two new multimillion-dollar wheat silos, add 1,200 new buses in Damascus, open another Iranian car factory in the north and start operating a cement plant — all in partnership with Iran. The two countries are also talking about building an oil refinery, opening a joint bank, constructing housing, developing electric generators and, someday, linking their rail systems through Iraq.

As the White House begins to rethink its strategy for dealing with the Middle East, particularly how to calm the chaos in Iraq, pressure to try to re-engage with Syria has grown. Some Western analysts contend that Syria, with a government more pragmatic than ideological, can be pried away from Iranian influence and convinced that its long-term interests lie instead with the West.

But Washington has spent years trying to isolate Syria, while Iran has for decades moved to entwine itself with Syria on many levels — political, military, economic and religious.

Iran is a country of many power centers with different pools of money, from funds controlled by grand ayatollahs in the religious city of Qum to those in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards. They may not all be directed by the central government, but they all help promote Iranian influence in Syria.

As a result, some Western diplomats in Iran say that, even if the United States tried, it might be impossible to extricate Syria from Iran’s orbit.

“Iranians have been working harder for longer than we realized,” said a European diplomat based in Damascus who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to avoid antagonizing Syrian officials. “They have stronger links going back more years than we were aware of.”

Syrian officials are extremely sensitive about the relationship with Iran. Part of the reason is fear of igniting sectarian tensions in Syria, which is about 80 percent Sunni Muslim. The president and his inner circle are from a minority Shiite sect, the Alawites, and Iran is Shiite.

While the Syrian power brokers have decided for practical reasons to align with Iran, political analysts in Syria say that the government remains fearful of alienating the Sunni majority.

Concern among Sunnis is heightened because Syria is a major destination for Iranian religious tourists; as many as 500,000 a year visit Shiite sites in Syria. Iranian organizations have spent millions of dollars restoring, enlarging and maintaining Shiite shrines in Syria, from the center of Damascus to the north, near the Turkish border.

Iran’s efforts to spread its influence around the Middle East have increased in the past two or three years, regional analysts say. They have been propelled by rising oil prices and American policies in the region, which have neutralized Iran’s enemies, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

These efforts have often been most evident in Lebanon, where it has set up an informal economy in the south. It needs only to provide money to its proxy, Hezbollah, which has a construction arm, called Jihad al Bina, and a vast network of social services that dole out money and build schools and hospitals.

In Lebanon, after Israel and Hezbollah fought for 34 days over the summer, Iran quickly delivered generators, and fuel, to villages without power. Iran also offered an open checkbook to repair anything not covered by other sources — including roads, mosques, schools and houses.

While there is no guarantee Iran will deliver on that pledge, it is already way ahead in the battle for the hearts and minds of many Lebanese. “The Zionist enemy destroys, and the Islamic Republic of Iran rebuilds,” read banners in front of restored schools in Lebanon.

In Syria, relations with Iran are more formal and less public, but no less consequential. Diplomats say, for example, that Iran has developed very close ties with Syrian intelligence, providing gear and training, and sharing listening posts to monitor Israel. Iran also has one of the largest embassies in Damascus, political analysts said, and has assigned an ambassador there who served for seven years as chief of staff to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The United States, by comparison, maintains economic sanctions on Syria and withdrew its ambassador in 2005, after the assassination of a former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri. The highest-ranking American diplomat in Damascus, Michael Corbin, the deputy chief of mission, has little access to Syrian officials.

Iran’s investments are relatively modest in value: just $120 million a year, the Syrian government says. But current and planned projects are considered significant.

“Iran is moving in the direction of investing in Syria, and of course Syria won’t say no,” said Samir Seifan, a Syrian economist in Damascus. “For Iran, it’s about business and about cementing political ties.”

The Iranian ambassador to Syria, Muhammad Hassan Akhtari, acknowledged that Iran had had trouble working in foreign markets. But he said that the experience of the past 10 years — especially in Syria — had helped improve Iran’s business practices. And he said that he was not worried that Syria would abandon Iran, or even try to alter relations with it.

“Syria remains very steady in their principles of foreign relations,” he said. “If the West wants to do something, we think they have to change their attitude.”

Rasha Elass contributed reporting.

Latest news

Iran’s 2023 Budget Shrouded In Doubt

On January 22, the Majlis (parliament) approved the draft of the 2023 budget bill proposed by regime president Ebrahim...

Iran: People of Khoy Still Reeling From 5.9-Magnitude Earthquake

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring...

Iran’s Unsolvable Air Pollution Problem

Air pollution will remain at dangerous levels and will increase for the next few days in most big cities,...

The World Must Acknowledge the Iranian People’s Right to Self-defense

Victor Hugo once said: “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” Throughout history, this has been the...

Iran: 60% Of Population Is Poor

The livelihood baskets of the Iranian people are shrinking dramatically. This, in turn, has introduced new concerns to protect...

The implications of EU’s terrorist designation of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)

The European Parliament called on January 18 for the European Union to list Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a...

Must read

Iraqi police detain 3 Iranians in Mosul

AP: Iraqi police detained three Iranians who were found...

Iran in secret talks with U.S., UK – report

Iran Focus: Tehran, Iran, Nov. 03 – Iran is...

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you