Iran Completes Its Route to the Mediterranean with a Strategic Port in Syria

April 1 2019

On October 1, by means of a recent agreement, Tehran will officially take over the management of the port at the Syrian city of Latakia, fulfilling the Islamic Republic’s long-held goal of securing access to the Mediterranean. Élie Saïkali writes:

The agreement is a major accomplishment for Tehran, which sees control of the port as an opportunity to strengthen its influence in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. It is also a step forward in the consolidation of the “Shiite axis” linking Iran to the Mediterranean by land. . . . After October 1, the Islamic Republic will be able to use the 23-warehouse harbor for its own purposes. . . .

The port agreement is a sign that Iran’s presence in Syria is still increasing; it followed on the heels of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Tehran on February 25, where he met with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The trip was Assad’s first to his closest regional ally since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, which is now in its ninth year.

In recent months, a number of industrial, military, and energy deals between Tehran and Damascus have been made public, including one that provides for the establishment of power stations in Latakia. The port-management agreement is another building block in Iran’s project to maintain its presence in Syria. The move is bad news for Israel, which may be tempted to carry out airstrikes on the facility if it suspects that it is being used to move suspicious goods.

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Read more at L’Orient-Le Joure

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy