Iran and its proxy Hizbullah have been planning to take over Syria, a report said.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said Iran and Hizbullah held a secret summit in April 2013 to draft strategy for Syria. In a report, the center said Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, in his first trip outside Lebanon since 2010, met Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei as well as military commanders to review a plan for a 150,000-man force to maintain control over Syria should President Bashar Assad fall.
“It appears that Hizbullah’s ongoing involvement in Syria, and the extent of this involvement, formed the main issue on the agenda during Nasrallah’s visit to Teheran,” the report, titled “Iran Plans to Take Over Syria,” said. “The more time passes, the more Iran appears to regard Syria as a lynchpin of its Middle Eastern policy, in general, and of leading the jihad and the Islamic resistance to Israel, in particular.”
On May 5, Iranian Army commander Gen. Ahmed Reza Pourdastan said his force was ready to train the Syrian military. Pourdastan, citing an Israel Air Force strike on Damascus International Airport, said the Assad regime would first have to make such a request.
“As a Muslim nation, we back Syria,” Pourdastan said, “and if there is need for training we will provide them with the training, but won’t have any active involvement in the operations.”
Author Shimon Shapira, a retired Israeli brigadier general, said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was directing Hizbullah to capture key parts of Syria. Shapira, regarded as a leading intelligence analyst, said Hizbullah units were deployed from the Syrian border with Lebanon to the central Syrian city of Homs as part of Teheran’s strategy to form an enclave that would reach the Mediterranean coast.
“Hizbullah’s inclusion in the armed struggle in Syria is intended first and foremost to serve the Iranian strategy, which has been setting new goals apart from military assistance to the Syrian regime,” the report, dated May 5, said. “Iran already seems to be looking beyond the regime’s survivability and preparing for a reality where it will have to operate in Syria even if Assad falls.”
The report said that Iran, under IRGC Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of the Quds Force, has formed a Shi’ite coalition to maintain a presence in Syria. Shapira cited Hizbullah and Iraq’s Hizbullah Brigades, the latter deployed around Damascus.
Leading Iranians have already expressed Teheran’s determination to maintain control of Syria. A leading Iranian strategist close to Khamenei, Mehdi Taaib, called Syria the “35th district of Iran” with “greater strategic importance” than the predominately Arab province of Khuzestan.
The report, which cited Iranian media and statements, said Suleimani drafted a plan to establish an Alawite-Shi’ite force to stop Sunni rebels in Syria. The 150,000-member force would be aided by Iran, Iraq, Hizbullah and supporters in the Gulf.
“This regional force will be integrated with the Syrian Army,” the report said. “Suleimani, himself, visited Syria in late February-early March to prepare the implementation of this plan.”
The report said Iran regarded Syria as a Shi’ite state that was key to Teheran’s domination of the Levant, particularly Lebanon. For years, Teheran poured money to build or renovate Shi’ite mosques as well as proselytize to Alawites.
“It is likely that Teheran will make every effort to recruit additional Shi’ite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan,” the report said. “‘From Iran’s standpoint, if the extreme Sunnis of the Al Qaida persuasion are not defeated in Syria, they will assert themselves in Iraq and threaten to take over the Persian Gulf, posing a real danger to Iran’s regional hegemony.”