A large bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has written to the Trump administration voicing their concern about Iran’s growing influence in Syria, Radio Farda reports. The forty-three members of U.S. Congress who signed a letter, are also asking the administration to tell Congress how it is planning to prevent Iran from establishing a foothold in Syria.
The lawmakers, who visited the region recently, say in their letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Israel is concerned “about Iranian operations in Syria, particularly since the signing of a ceasefire last July” and are calling for “a strategy for Syria that includes how the United States plans to prevent Iran from gaining a permanent foothold on Israel and Jordan’s doorstep and to block Iranian arms exports to Hezbollah.”
They voice concern that in addition to substantial assistance Iran is providing the Syrian regime, it has deployed regular army troops to Syria, “which would mark a significant departure from a historical policy of keeping regular army forces within Iran’s borders.” Iran is also directing Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias in Syria. The lawmakers point out that these forces have gained experience and closely coordinate with the Syrian army and the Russian air force.
“Iran is providing substantial amounts of support to the Syrian regime, including funds, weapons, and personnel from IRGC-Quds force. Iran is estimated to have deployed about 1,300-1,800 IRGC soldiers and even some regular army Special Forces personnel to Syria.”
The 43 members of Congress warned that “should Iran be allowed to maintain a permanent military presence in Syria, it would pose a significant threat in the region, and United States interests.”
“Should Iran be allowed to maintain a permanent military presence in Syria, it would pose a significant threat to Israel, Jordan and United States interests”, says the letter, adding, “Any agreement or policy that allows Iran to station forces on or near Israel and Jordan’s border does not serve U.S. interests”.
The letter showed concern about the risk of an Iranian corridor from Tehran through Iraq to Syria and into Lebanon if the strategy is not changed.
“A permanent Iranian presence in Syria would connect Lebanon-based Hezbollah to Iran via Iraq and Syria. This would give Iran the ability to project power from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.”
“We urge you to come to Congress with a strategy for Syria that includes how the United States plans to prevent Iran from gaining a permanent foothold in the region and to block Iranian arms exports to Hezbollah,” the letter continued.
“Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets and missiles [are] larger than that of most states and could pose a grave military threat to Israel,” they wrote.
Israel has not been happy with deals the Trump administration has been making with Russia regarding Syria. Israel insists that Iranian directed forces should stay at least 30 miles from Israel’s borders, but Russia rejects that. It is not clear what the U.S. position is on the matter. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have warned that permanent Iranian bases in Syria will not be tolerated and Israel will act to protect itself.
The Washington Free Beacon says that the letter comes at a time when many in Congress have become concerned about what they see is the Trump administration’s failure to effectively prevent Iran’s growing military presence in the Middle East, especially in Syria.