Iran’s policy on the Arab region is clear enough – now more than ever before – and it does not require that much analysis to pin point. In brief, Tehran never misses the chance to establish a stronger foothold in the Arab region to expand its sphere of influence.
The discussion here is mainly on the political and strategic implications of Iran’s relentless efforts nowadays to secure an influential presence in Syria’s southern front through the intensified military campaign it began in January against the Western-backed Syrian opposition using, in addition to its forces, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, pro-Iranian Iraqi militias and also Shiite Afghani fighters.
Iran is plainly acting in the Arab region with a colonial attitudeRaed Omari
But before outlining Tehran’s strategic goals, it has to be noted that Iran’s military operations in southern Syria and, before that in Aleppo, have made it very clear the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is, militarily speaking, incapable of launching a large-scale operation alone without the backing of Iran and Hezbollah. I.e., the embattled regime, as a domestic component, seems to be no longer an influential part of the struggle there. Plus, Syria’s southern bordering region with Jordan and Israel, the stronghold of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) has been a quiet front and never been a strategic sphere for the Syrian regime, at least for the last two years. Why now is because Iran wanted to secure a presence there. More importantly, the Syrian regime’s battles against the FSA have been centered around Aleppo with the aim of securing the borders of Assad’s envisioned Alawite state project extending through Damascus (not the whole Damascus) through the Bekaa Plains to Tartus, Banias and Latakia on the Mediterranean. The Syrian regime never sent troops to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and never to the Golan Heights to fight Jabhat al-Nusra.
Assad is ‘shy’
The thing that Assad is “shy” to say that he is no longer ruling Syria and not even the parts of the country his “rusty” war machinery is still hardly holding on to. The remaining Syria, excluding Daraa and the whole south, Raqqa and Hasakah and some parts of Aleppo, are now ruled and run by the regime of Tehran as it is the case in Iraq. Syria’s and Iraq’s strongman now is Qassem Sulaimani, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander. Assad’s facial expressions and his “weird” answers to the questions of the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen during the rest interview all revealed how the embattled president is not in fact presiding over his war-torn country. Bowen could have met with Sulaimani or gone to Tehran for better insight into Syria.
Now back to why Iran is pushing hard into establishing a presence on Syria’s southern bordering region with Israel and Jordan. Yes, it is a relentless effort by Tehran to establish a stronger foothold in a region next to Israel in replication of its die-hard ally Hezbollah’s presence near the northern Israeli settlements. It might be also needless to say that Iran wants such presence near Israel for better bargaining position in its nuclear negotiations with Washington. Tehran is sure of a possible Israeli attack against its nuclear plants should it near the production of an atomic bomb and it seeks to be around Israel in southern Lebanon and Syria for a retaliation. But what about Jordan?
Iran’s military operations
In fact, nothing, or just very little analysis, has linked Iran’s military operations in southern Syria with Jordan although Amman has always been at the heart of Tehran’s ambitions for regional supremacy. In a “colonial“ attitude and in a bid to expand its scope of regional influence after including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and, now Yemen, Iran has managed many times to drag Amman into its wings. The Iranian ambassador to Amman has been reported, during meetings with Jordanians officials, as unveiling his country’s readiness to provide Jordan with natural gas and oil at preferential prices playing of course on the resource-limited kingdom’s energy woes.
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that Iran’s strategic goal behind securing a military presence in southern Syria is part of its attempt to “engulf” the Arab Gulf states exactly as it is doing in Yemen. It is Iran’s ambition to take Jordan from its strategic alliance with the Gulf countries. Iran knows that, although not literally a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan is linked with strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Jordan is never willing to sacrifice its strategic alliance with the GCC no matter what the price in return is and this is Tehran’s dilemma. But a heavy military presence on Jordan’s northern borders with Syria could be a pressing factor on Amman to reconsider and soften its position on the strategic alliance with the Sunni Gulf alliance at least for the sake of geographic proximity.
So, Iran is plainly acting in the Arab region with a colonial attitude. What Tehran used to do in secret through intelligence channels is being done now in broad daylight. Sulaimani is traveling back and forth between Syria and Iraq as if the real ruler of the two war-torn Arab countries. At the time Iran is negotiating its nuclear ambitions with the U.S. in Geneva and elsewhere, its troops are marching into the Syrian and Iraqi territories to establish new realities on the ground for better bargaining position.
Amidst the fierce competition in the Arab region among the three major rivals Iran, Turkey and Israel, I wonder isn’t it time yet for a strong Arab coalition to face such colonial ambitions?
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2