A recent survey put out by Fox News found that six in ten Americans believe that Iran poses a threat to America’s safety. These Americans are backed up in their convictions as they recently witnessed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards threatening a British warship. This came after Iran attacked a Japanese tanker, had its proxies attack an international airport in Saudi Arabia and seized a British ship. As tensions flare in the region, it is of critical importance to recall that Iran does not merely pose a threat to the US in the Persian Gulf. The Mullahs can also harm America via their proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Given this fact, it is of utmost importance that Americans pay attention to how the Islamic Republic is entrenching itself in Syria.
A recent report issued by the Safadi Center found that:
there has been increased infiltration by Iran-supported militias along the border with Israel. Four Lebanese Hezbollah bases were established in Southern Syria over the past year, three of them in Zara and one of them in Quneitra.
The report claims that Hezbollah utilizes these bases in order to train new volunteers and to store weapons and armaments for the terror group. According to the Safadi Center, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime are increasingly spreading out along the Golan Heights, thus posing a strategic threat to the State of Israel:
This is done in order to realize the regional ambitions of the Iranian regime, which seeks to establish a Shia Crescent from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea.
“Hezbollah is not satisfied with providing training bases for the regime and its volunteers,” Mendi Safadi, the head of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, states. He continues:
They also established militant groups and security cells in Daraa and Quneitra in order to obtain wide deployment in the region via families that support recruiting children. This is done so that they can obtain comprehensive military control over the border in the Hermon region till Swaida via the Golan Heights and the Jordanian border. Hezbollah has recruited in recent months hundreds of residents of the Quneitra region. In addition, other secret groups have done special training on rockets in the military academy in Aleppo and Lebanon, where participants received from Hezbollah a monthly salary of 120,000 Syrian liras in addition to military uniforms for combat missions so that they can fight alongside the Syrian military.
The report issued by the Safadi Center has been confirmed by Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas, who affirms that Iran and Hezbollah not only are more and more entrenched along the border with Israel but are increasingly taking over all of Syria. He states,
Iran is in charge of Syria. Assad is a figurehead for Syria but the people who run the day to day operations in Syria are Iran. They have bases throughout the country. We see their influence in all of Syria in general. In fact, they have been working on changing the character of Syria so that it will be Shia and the demographics are changing in favor of groups allied with Iran. They are shipping in oil tankers, weapons and people. It is a fact.
“It is beyond the Israel border,” Abbas adds, stressing that:
Iran started not just now. They supported groups and are building up their influence slowly in Syria, economic to military. Now, they fully control Syrian day to day life. It is not so easy to detect anymore. They gave citizenship to people, changed neighborhoods and they let people economically rely on them. People began to rely on them. It is not easy to detect like an army. They look Syrian. They dress like Syrians. They learned to speak Syrian Arabic. They embedded themselves in Syrian society. What Iran is doing is more a threat to Syria and the whole Middle East for they are embedded in Syria.
Abbas proclaims that eventually all of the ethnic and religious cleansing that is occurring in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen will be a nightmare for the world to manage for a number of reasons:
This is firstly because of the refugee displacement and also the changing the landscape of the Middle East. Where are you going to strike? They are embedded in schools and hospitals. It is important for the US and Israel to realize that they need to address the Syrian issue. Any political solution is in favor of Iran. The Iranians view Syria as a way to bypass sanctions and use its ports, airports and seaports and energy sources to make it a market or to bring it from there to Iran. This is the only way to bypass the international community. Unfortunately, the US, Israelis and Europeans have not recognized it. They can put sanctions on Iran but Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq serve its needs.
Abbas also notes that as Iran extends its sphere of influence, it puts pressure on groups that are traditionally friendly to the US, such as the Christians, Kurds, Yezidis, etc. He also declares that this creates more disgruntled Sunnis, which can lead to the reemergence of ISIS or something worse:
They will make ISIS look moderate. The sooner the US and Europeans address the issue and recognize Syria as a failed state and try to have Iran’s influence reduced as well as Russia’s, there will be a better Middle East for them with less radical Islam and a smaller refugee crisis. It will allow certain sectors of Syria to prosper. That has the potential to make the Middle East safer versus burying ones head in the sand. Now is the time to recognize these failed states as such and to support your true allies in these areas and to make sure other people don’t go the same way as Assad by finding a way to let them rebuild. That is something that needs to be addressed.
Given that this is the reality, US President Donald Trump should not just apply more sanctions on Iran. He also needs to address how Iran is taking over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, where it is establishing a Shia Crescent. He needs to tackle how Turkey is increasingly building an alliance with Iran. This reality makes it pivotal for the US to keep a presence in Syria, especially as Turkey threatens to engage in a military operation if it can't come to an agreement with the US. Such a military operation combined with the Iranian threat in the rest of Syria would transform the entire Kurdish region into another Afrin, where ISIS is presently reemerging. The only way to avoid such a scenario is for the US to go after Iran’s proxies in the same manner that they go after the Iran regime itself - and to not abandon Syria to Iran.
Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.”