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Iran’s Plan: Conquer Aleppo, Gain Access to Mediterranean

Iran’s assistance in helping the Syrian government capture the rebel-held city of Aleppo, which has been subjected to air strikes that French President Francois Hollande has characterized as war crimes, is part of the Islamic Republic’s long-held strategy to build and control a land route to the Mediterranean Sea, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

Iranian proxy forces supporting the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, including the Iraqi Shiite militias known as popular mobilization forces, currently surround the eastern section of Aleppo and are preparing for an invasion.

Aleppo, The Guardian explained, “would be an important leg in the corridor [to the sea], which would run past two villages to the north that have historically been in Shia hands.” Iraqi and Syrian officials told The Guardian that the path would then go south to Homs, and from there to the port city of Latakia. More completely, the route “across Arab Iraq, through the Kurdish north, into Kurdish north-eastern Syria and through the battlefields north of Aleppo, where Iran and its allies are prevailing on the ground.”

All points along the route, including through parts of Kurdistan, are controlled by Iran or its proxies, not all of whom are “aware of the entirety of the project,” The Guardian explained. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, is credited with devising the route, which is now “coordinated by senior government and security officials in Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, all of whom defer to” Soleimani.

Those who have observed Suleimani up close as he inspects the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, or in meetings in Damascus and Baghdad, where he projects his immense power through studied calm, say he has invested everything in Syria – and in ensuring that Iran emerges from a brutal, expensive war with its ambitions enhanced. “If we lose Syria, we lose Tehran,” Suleimani told the late Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi in 2014. Chalabi told the Observer at the time that Suleimani had added: “We will turn all this chaos into an opportunity.”

The completion of Iran’s route to the Mediterranean “signifies the consolidation of Iran’s control over Iraq and the Levant, which in turn confirms their hegemonic regional ambitions,” said Ali Khedery, who advised American ambassadors to Iraq from 2003-2011. “That should trouble every western leader and our regional allies because this will further embolden Iran to continue expanding, likely into the Gulf countries next, a goal they have explicitly and repeatedly articulated. Why should we expect them to stop if they’ve been at the casino, doubling their money over and over again, for a decade?”

Khedery’s concern echoes the predictions of a number of experts made before the signing of last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argued that a deal that lifted sanctions but didn’t address Iran’s destabilizing behavior would risk “empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts.” Former State Department official Aaron David Miller similarly wrote that such a deal would avert a crisis for now, “but unless it really does change Iran’s behavior, we’ve only bought ourselves a bigger one down the road.” And three fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that a nuclear deal would not prompt Iran to abandon its  “imperial ambition” in the Middle East.

[Photo: ali javid / YouTube ]