Syrian and Iranian Interests Converge in Lebanon

Posted in Broader Middle East | 27-Feb-06 | Author: Brian Maher

Syria and Iran share a history of strategic coordination based on intersecting regional interests. These interests matched perfectly when Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party governed Iraq. They also aligned near perfectly in opposition to Israel's forays into Lebanon, which gave rise to their creation of Hezbollah as a counterweight to Israeli power. Iran and Syria continue to share common interests in Iraq where they have cooperated due to their mutual antipathy toward the United States. It is in Lebanon that their interests most directly converge; Beirut figures prominently in both Syrian and Iranian strategic calculations.

The Syrian-Iranian Axis

Damascus is the junior partner in this relationship since it has less to offer and has chosen to cast its lot with Iran. Tehran wields greater geopolitical heft. With Iranian assistance, Damascus believes it can stave off international pressure while expanding its freedom of action in Lebanon. This is a deal its Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors, which are troubled by Tehran's influence over Damascus, will not offer.

For its part, Tehran counts on Syria to facilitate the continued primacy of Hezbollah in Lebanon in order to advance its own interests in the region and beyond. For Tehran, Hezbollah represents an effective threat to Israel and is a central pillar of Iranian grand strategy. A strong Syrian-Iranian axis only fortifies Hezbollah's position in Lebanon and, therefore, Tehran's position.

In late January of 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Damascus in order to cement ties between the two increasingly isolated countries. Both states are closing ranks in an effort to allay mounting international pressure.

Tehran maintains a keen interest in keeping the foundering Assad regime afloat, lest it lose a key facilitator of its regional strategy. Tehran harbors concerns about Damascus' straitened position in the face of the U.N. investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon and the defection of former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who is openly advocating regime change in Syria. Present at this meeting were high-ranking officials closely linked to Hezbollah, possibly including Imad Mughniyahits, the group's operational commander. Perhaps not so coincidentally, a suicide bomber carried out a successful attack in Tel Aviv around the time of the meeting.

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