When the light hits Syria, it seems to cast a shadow that looks like Iran's. The huge explosions outside of Damascus early Sunday are the latest indication of Iran's tentacles inside Syria.
One of the reported targets of the raid was Fateh-110 precision guided missiles manufactured in Iran. Iran is supplying Syria with weapons like the Fateh-110, funds and personnel. They desperately want to keep President Assad's regime alive.
But in light of the Assad's current precarious situation, does Iran have even bigger plans? According to retired Israel Gen. Shimon Shapira, they do. His brief from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, called "Iran's Plans to Take Over Syria," documents a detailed and elaborate plan not just to keep Assad's regime alive but to gobble Syria up and make it an Iranian Shiite state.
It's a prescient analysis with profound implications for the future of the Middle East. Here's his executive summary. The full report can be seen here.
- In mid-April, 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. Suleimani prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states.
- Suleimani's involvement was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled "one way or another" Iraq and South Lebanon. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of "Iranian expansionism."
- An important expression of Syria's centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei's think tank. He recently stated that "Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran]." Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.
- Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.
- Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan.