Iran, Syria Crises Closely Connected

The third round of talks to end Iran’s nuclear program ended in failure last month, and a much broader embargo on Iran’s oil exports took effect this week. In this context, the six world powers that have been negotiating with Iran must consider what to do next.

At the same time, the leaders of these six countries – the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – are also grappling with how to end the intensifying bloodbath in Syria. In fact, the two crises are unavoidably connected. Iran is the Syrian government’s best friend and ally in the Middle East.

Last week, a UN Security Council committee published a report that Syria remains the top destination for Iranian arms shipments, which are illegal. (The report also found that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were a destination for Iranian arms.)

Documents leaked earlier this year show that Iran has given the Syrian regime more than $1 billion to help it overcome sanctions imposed on it by the international community.

Iran has officially confirmed that it is helping Assad’s regime, prompting the U.S. to reproach Tehran for “bragging” about the relationship. The U.S. State Department said that Iran’s hand was clearly discernible in the killing of hundreds of people, including children, by a Syrian militia group, the Shabiha, which closely resembles an Iranian militia (the Basij) notorious for brutally suppressing peaceful demonstrations by the Iranian people.

The European Union leveled sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard last year for providing “technical assistance and support to the Syrian security services to repress civilian protest movements.” Syria is the only country where the Iranian military holds annual joint staff meetings.

There have also been numerous reports out of Syria of Farsi-speaking commandos helping to crush anti-government demonstrations. Yet Iran blames “foreign interference” for the massacres of Syrian civilians, specifically blaming the United States and other Western powers for creating the chaos there.

What’s more, through Syria, Iran is able to easily deliver military and financial support to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist organization and political party whose goals are the destruction of the State of Israel, including “liberating Jerusalem,” plus “the establishment of an Iranian-style Shiia theocracy in Lebanon following the Iranian model; and the eradication of Western influences in Lebanon and the greater Middle East.” Iran’s control of Hezbollah greatly strengthens its influence in the region.

Hezbollah has approximately 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel’s civilian heartland. With funding and training from the Iranians, it runs training camps in Lebanon on how to conduct assassinations, suicide bombings and kidnappings. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters have trained in Iran. Iran has been training and funding Palestinian terror organizations, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, for many years.
The reach of the Iran-Syria axis is not confined to the region. Since the 1980s Hezbollah has been responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world in which many Americans were killed. It is widely believed to have international terrorist cells in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Africa. And just this past year, U.S. and government officials around the world linked Iran and Hezbollah to assassination attempts against diplomats in seven countries, including the plot to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. in a Washington restaurant.

Iran’s support of terrorist groups is not likely to change, no matter what the outcome of talks with the six world powers. But Tehran’s connection to terrorism and its continuing support of Assad’s brutal regime should send warning signals to the international community about Iran’s long-term intentions.

Laura Kam is the executive director for Global Affairs at the Israel Project, a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Washington. This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Examiner.