Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Iran Is Using Syria To Advance Toward The Mediterranean

Islamic State needs to be stopped, but Tehran is a far more menacing strategic threat.


By Naftali Bennett
The Wall Street Journal
August 8, 2017

Hezbollah announced last month that it had captured the Syrian-Lebanese border area of Juroud Arsal from Islamic State forces. Far from being a minor development in a violent and unstable region, this marks another Iranian success in its quest for power and dominance across the Middle East.

Since its 1979 revolution, Iran has sought to become a dominant world power capable of imposing Islamic rule on as many people as possible. The Iranian regime finances and supports armed militias in other countries and is the world’s top exporter of terror. Hundreds if not thousands of Americans have died at the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxies.

An essential part of Tehran’s grand strategy is to control a land corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. Under the cover of Syria’s bloody civil war, Hezbollah is helping to build such a highway. Hezbollah, trained and supported by Tehran, is classified as a terror group by the U.S., France and the Arab League, among others.

Its effort endangers the entire Western world. Controlling this corridor would directly connect Iran with its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, allowing it to transfer advanced weapons cheaply and quickly. The highway would let Iran build its military presence on the Mediterranean, bringing much of Europe into the range of its air force, navy and mid-range missiles. Iran could even build arms factories outside its borders.

Iranian apologists frame Hezbollah’s capture of the border area as a victory over ISIS, as if the U.S.-led coalition ought to be cheering. ISIS needs to be stopped, but Iran is a far greater problem in the long run. Tehran shouldn’t be mistaken for part of the solution.

As Syria disintegrated through civil war, Iran acted swiftly. It broke international law and forcefully expelled the Sunni population and replaced it with Shiites. This changed the local demography to support Tehran’s planned land corridor through Syria and Iraq. Iran also sent its generals to train Bashar Assad’s troops. Hezbollah has effectively morphed from a terror group into a division of the Iranian army, working for Tehran not only in Lebanon and Syria, but also in Yemen and Iraq.

In the game of chess that Syria has become, Western leaders are so focused on the knight attacking their pawns they cannot see the queen maneuvering to defeat them. Mistaking ISIS as the most serious threat has allowed Iran to move its pieces forward and gain better position. The nuclear deal Iran signed in 2015 demonstrates Tehran’s patience, as it temporarily slows the country’s preparations to acquire nuclear weapons without stopping them over the long term.

I and others are concerned by the cease-fire in southern Syria brokered by the U.S., Russia and Jordan last month. With American and allied forces present in the north, Iran has focused its efforts on the south. The hiatus from violence in that region only gives Tehran another piece of territory in its bid to build a highway to the coast.

It will take time and patience to stop Iran. The international community needs to defeat Tehran wherever its forces advance: in cyberspace, on the battlefields of Yemen and Iraq, and in advanced-weapons laboratories. This effort will be both public and covert, economic and technological. If it results in direct military confrontation, Iran’s foes must be ready to win there too.

Iran must be made to pay a price every day its soldiers remain on Syrian soil helping the Assad regime kill its own people. Tehran’s leaders must know that every violation of the nuclear deal will trigger harsh sanctions. They cannot direct terror attacks in Europe, Asia and America and expect the world to ignore their actions.

There are many possible courses of action against Iran. Yet the free world—led by the U.S.—has yet to take the first and most important step: declaring that it cannot abide an Iranian empire from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.


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