IN SPITE OF US EFFORTS SYRIA AND IRAN STRENGTHEN TIES
“Teheran remains a valued and indispensable partner, especially in a context of regional uncertainty,” the report, titled “Reshuffling the Cards: Syria’s Evolving Strategy,” said. “The long relationship provides military assets and security cooperation, as well as diplomatic leverage in dealing with Western and Arab countries.”
The report said Syria’s relationship with Iran has enabled Damascus to resist neighboring Iraq and pressure by other Sunni regimes. ICG said Teheran has also benefited the Assad regime, beset by economic woes and regional tension.
“As long as Syriaâ€™s environment remains unsettled, in short, it will maintain strong ties to Iran; at the same time, it will seek to complement that relationship with others â€” Turkey, France, and now Saudi Arabia â€” to broaden its strategic portfolio and to signal a possibly different future,” the report said.
ICG said little was known of the decision-making within the Assad regime.
The report cited Assad’s roots in the Alawite minority, hated by the Sunni majority and fearful of being seen as capitulating to either Israel or the West.
“From Syriaâ€™s vantage point, there is good reason to cling to the status quo,” the report said. “For almost four decades, it has served Damascus well. Despite a turbulent and often hostile neighbourhood, the regime has proved resilient. It has used ties to various groups and states to amass political and material assets, acquiring a regional role disproportionate to its actual size or resources. One does not readily forsake such allies or walk away from such a track record.”
In contrast, Assad regards Turkey as a facilitator of Syria’s economy. The report said Assad sees Turkey as a means for increased tourism, investment and regional cooperation dominated by Syria.
The report said Iran has become a key weapons supplier to Syria in wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Still, Teheran has not become Syria’s sponsor, and Iranian missiles have not overcome Israel’s strategic superiority.
“For Damascus, Teheran remains an indispensable partner in a context of ongoing regional instability and strategic uncertainty,” the report said. “The relationship provides much-needed military hardware; diplomatic leverage in dealing with Western and Arab countries. The partnership with Ankara serves separate purposes.”
Meanwhile, a report by the American Enterprise Institute said the Obama administration has failed to nudge Syria away from Iran’s orbit and toward that of so-called moderate Arab states. Authored by resident scholar and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin, the report said Damascus continues to serve as Iran’s facilitator throughout the Levant.
“There is no evidence, however, that the State Department’s engagement policy has worked,” the report, titled “The Enduring Iran-Syria-Hizbullah Axis.” said. “Nor does it appear that Teheran and Damascus have loosened their relations.”
The report said Syria continues to proliferate weapons, particularly in allowing Iranian arms to reach Hizbullah in Lebanon. Rubin cited U.S. and Israeli interdictions of Iranian weapons shipments to Syria in 2009.
“The Obama administration would like to move Syria into the camp of more moderate Arab states, but there is scant evidence that Syria is willing to give up its support for terrorist organizations,” the report said. “Like Iran, it remains a destabilizing and dangerous force in the region.”
“Given both the circumstances and the stakes, it is ironic that U.S. officials continue to accept the fiction of Syrian sincerity,” the report said. “As difficult as stopping terrorist supplies may be, the likelihood that proxy groups will voluntarily forfeit their capability is low, and the cost of allowing terrorists to use such arms is high.”
The report, released as the White House resumed its dialogue with Damascus, said Iran and Syria continue to employ Hizbullah and other proxies against Israel and other rivals in the Middle East. Syria was also said to have been helping Hizbullah prepare for a new war with the Jewish state.
“Iran may be Hizbullah’s chief patron, but Syria is the lynchpin that makes Iranian support for foreign fighters possible,” the report said. “While Israel may be the immediate target of the Iran-Syria nexus, the partnership threatens broader U.S. interests.”
The report said additional Iranian weapons to Syria might move through Turkey. In 2009, Syria and Turkey increased border cooperation as well as embarked on their first military exercises.
“The Turkish route into Syria may become more important as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tightens relations with both Teheran and Damascus,” the report said.
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