Click photo to download. Caption: Palestinian supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine wave the group’s red flag, the Syrian flag, and the Palestinian flag as they holds poster of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during a rally on May 7, 2013, following two reported Israeli airstrikes near Damascus that sent regional tensions soaring. Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
By Alex Traiman/JNS.org
The recently reported Israeli airstrikes on Syria, which were neither confirmed
nor denied by the Jewish state, targeted weapons depots allegedly storing
Iranian-made weapons intended for the Lebanese terrorist organization
Hezbollah. While the transfer of high-grade weapons may pose a direct threat to
Israel’s security, there are greater questions about a tectonic shift in the
balance of power in the Middle East.
“Iran as been exerting increasing influence across the region, in
countries including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and even in the Gulf States, such as
Kuwait and Bahrain,” Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon
Shapira told JNS.org.
Shapira, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs (JCPA),
recently published a report detailing Iranian intentions to partner with
Hezbollah to affectively grab control of Syria. The report cites coordination
at the highest levels between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah.
“Syria is the bridge between Iran and Lebanon,” Shapira said.
According to the JCPA report, “Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a
secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds
Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
The leaders discussed an operational plan that includes the “establishment
of a 150,000-man force for Syria.”
The tactical coordination is the latest manifestation of a long-established
Iranian pattern of expansionist foreign policy–a principle outlined in the
Iranian constitution. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been
tangibly extending its influence across the region by force, particularly
during periods of civil turmoil.
“Iran created Hezbollah in the summer of 1982. This was a strategic
decision to export the revolution to the Arab World,” Shapira told JNS.org.
According to Shapira, Iran was able to establish influence in Lebanon partly
because both are Shiite-majority states with similar religious views. Perhaps
more importantly, Iran was taking advantage of long-term instability plaguing
Lebanon, during a 15-year civil war.
Decades later, following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, multiple
insurgencies against U.S. troops were led by the Quds Force, an elite division
of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Numerous experts have cited growing Iranian
influence in Iraq–another unstable Middle Eastern nation with a sizable Shiite
Today, Iran is attempting to take advantage of a similar crisis in Syria.
“We can now say that there are over 1,000 Hezbollah fighters operating in
Syria,” Shapira said. Furthermore, Iran is now recruiting Shiite fighters
in Iraq to come to Syria.
As many as 80,000 or more have been killed in Syria since the start of
country’s civil war in 2011. As the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad strains
to retain power, radical Sunni opposition groups, including elements of al Qaeda,
are seeking to take control.