Assad’s late father, Hafez, had been among the first heads of state to praise the 1979 Iranian revolution that brought the Islamist regime to power.
Syria and Iran are entwined tighter than an intricately woven Persian carpet. Unless Syrian President Bashar Assad has a change of heart and decides to expel Iranian forces, his most treasured foreign guests are staying.
Russian officials, most notably Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have repeatedly affirmed the reality of an enduring Iranian presence, essentially undermining President Trump’s assertion, following his summit meeting with President Putin, that the US and Russia are aligned on the goal of getting Iran out of Syria.
Any hope of unraveling this alliance, this partnership in terrorism, is fanciful. Long before March 2011, when a brutal Assad regime crackdown on schoolchildren sparked the war in Syria, the Iranian-Syrian bond was already tight. In January 2006, for example, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an official two-day visit to Damascus where he was feted by Assad, the first head of state to visit Tehran to personally congratulate Ahmadinejad after his election the previous year.
Assad’s late father, Hafez, had been among the first heads of state to praise the 1979 Iranian revolution that brought the Islamist regime to power. The secular Assad family, part of the Alawite minority, found a kindred spirit in the theocratic rulers of the largest Shia country: they shared a deep-seated animosity towards Israel, the United States and Sunni Muslims in the region.
Iran, its terrorist protégé Hezbollah, and Russia have ably assisted and supported Bashar Assad’s merciless campaign of murderous destruction that after seven and a half years has left more than 500,000 Syrians dead, at least six million displaced inside Syria, and another five million living as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and other countries. This debauchery has included, according to a new BBC study, “at least 106 chemical attacks” since September 2013, when Assad signed the International Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Iran, which will mark the 40th anniversary of its revolution and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in early 2019, has patiently pursued a long-term strategy of extending its influence and intervention in the region. Establishing Hezbollah in 1983 has been one of Iran’s most successful investments. Syria has long been a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons and supplies to Hezbollah.
Iran has also actively sought to reach Israel by other means. In January 2002, Iran sent a heavily arms-laden ship, the Karine A, to Gaza. Israel’s capture of the Karine A and display of its cargo so enraged President Bush that he suspended US interactions with Yasser Arafat on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, Iran has supported it, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups operating in the coastal territory against Israel.