PEOPLE SHOUT slogans during a protest near the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul in December against the Islamic Republic’s role in the battle for Aleppo in Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
News of Iran’s involvement in Syria and its corridor to the Mediterranean that stretches from Tehran, via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, has been widely reported in the last weeks. This comes after more than a year of warnings by a disparate group of writers and analysts. The newfound acceptance of Iran’s threat, no longer just a nuclear issue but a land-based path of influence involving militias and allies, should bode well for Israel’s concerns.
But could it be too much good news, too late? “Iran is taking over Syria, can anyone stop it?” asked David W. Lesch, professor of Middle East history at Trinity University in San Antonio, in The New York Times on Wednesday. On August 23, the Associated Press reported that “Iran extends reach with fight for land link to Mediterranean.” The article noted that “the land-route would be the biggest prize yet for Iran in its involvement in Syria’s six-year-old civil war. The ‘corridor’ would go through Iraq and provide “unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon for the first time.”
At the Daily Mail Gareth Davies reported, “Iran’s path to the Med: Iranian-backed fighters close in on goal of creating safe corridor through Syria and increasing Tehran’s power in the Middle East.”
One of the early urtexts of the Iran “road to the sea” narrative was Martin Chulov’s October 2016 piece at The Guardian. “Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the sea.” His sources were “influential Iraqis” and officials in northern Iraq and northern Syria.
Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs, warned of Iran’s advance for The Jerusalem Post
earlier this year and Fabrice Balanche at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy also published on the concept in April 2017.
Now that it is widely accepted that there is a “Shi’ite corridor to the Mediterranean” and that Iran has, in the words of Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker
, “secured a road link from the Iranian border all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast,” intelligence officials and governments in the Middle East are speaking openly about the issue. UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, warned on Tuesday that Iran was playing a “colonial” role in Syria. Former US ambassador Robert Ford said on Monday that Iran “will be in Syria to stay.”
Will the discovery of the Iranian “corridor” by most of the region’s media and by Western media, as well as by politicians and experts lead to any change, or will it be like the Iranian nuclear issue, where widespread knowledge of it lead to acceptance and then a deal? Israel has been intimating that there are redlines regarding Iranian bases in Syria and Lebanon and has continually warned about them. However, Israel’s constant warnings about the Iranian nuclear issue were sometimes viewed as meddling and alarmist. Major media reporting on the Iranian land corridor as a new fact in the region, as opposed to mere conjecture, is an important development.