Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the Iranian Parliament, in Tehran, Iran on August 28, 2018. (Fatemeh Bahrami /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Strategy of Fighting Iran in Syria is Not Working

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, March 30

During the past week, Iran has been granted the privilege of managing the port of Lattakia, thus displacing two companies, one Syrian and the other French, from managing the largest port on the Syrian coast. Iran continues to work hard to strengthen its hegemony over post-war Syria, which includes, alongside economic influence, a military, social and political domination. Since the beginning of this year, mutual visits between Iranian and Syrian officials have grown more and more common, with the goal of stimulating economic cooperation between the two sides. A large number of investment and trade agreements have been signed between the two governments in an attempt to establish a “long-term strategic economic alliance,” as described by the Syrian government. In addition, officials in the Syrian regime has spoken of “preferential treatment” to be enjoyed by Iranian investors and Iranian companies in all reconstruction activities in Syria. Despite the optimistic picture of strategic economic cooperation that opens the door to the Iranian investors, the reality remains very tough and does not call for much optimism. The volume of trade between the two sides is still very modest and is not expected to improve in light of the financial difficulties experienced by both countries due to economic sanctions, the mismanagement of resources and chronic corruption. A decline in the purchasing power of both countries’ currencies, particularly the Syrian one, further exacerbates the difficulties impeding the strengthening of economic relations between the two sides. But for Tehran, trade and economic cooperation extends well beyond financial importance. The consolidation of economic relations between the two countries and the expansion of Iran’s economic influence are only one layer within a multi-layered strategy aimed at penetrating Syria’s state institutions, military and society. After its military intervention and assistance to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran has expanded its military presence inside and outside the regime by deploying its militias directly in all areas of regime control. As the Syrian regime weakened militarily during the war years, its dependence on Tehran and its militias became organic and inescapable. Unfortunately, economic sanctions and the international and regional climate against Iran do not appear to have pushed the latter to renounce its hegemonic aspirations. Iran’s recent takeover of the Lattakia port serves as a reminder to the continuous effort to expand this influence despite the challenges it faces. Iranian organizations now provide food and assistance to Syrian refugees, and try to recruit young men for their militias in exchange for a monthly salary of $200. Iran is gaining more and more momentum in Syria, and any Western attempt to curb its influence has failed. Thus, despite what appears in the media and statements by Western officials about the effectiveness of the sanctions against Iran, Tehran continues to wield immense influence over Syria and it is determined to continue doing so despite the hurdles it might face.  – Salam al-Saadi

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