February 16, 2005

Syria and Iran Common Front - Nothng New

On February 15, Syria and Iran announced that they are forming a common front to face threats to the two countries. The announcement came during a meeting of the Iranian vice president and Syrian prime minister in Tehran. These periodic coordination meetings have taken place for over a decade.

While the media are spinning out of control over this announcement, there is nothing new here. Syria and Iran have had a close relationship, a "common front" since the early 1980s.

In 1980, Iraqi forces under Saddam Husayn invaded Iran. In the ensuing eight-year war, Iran and Syria were allied politically and at times, militarily as well. On several occasions, Iranian fighter aircraft used Syrian air bases to conduct operations against Iraq. The relationship continued throughout the war. While virtually every other Arab country supported Iraq politically and economically, Syria remained firmly in the Iranian camp.

The relationship between Iran and Syria expanded in the mid-1980s to include Iranian operations in Lebanon. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Al-Quds (Jerusalem) force began training, funding and equipping Lebanese Hizballah. IRGC operatives were also involved in the kidnapping of American officials and civilians. Two of those believed to have been kidnapped and murdered if not by the IRGC, at least with their approval, were U.S. Marine Colonel Rich Higgins and CIA's Beirut Chief of Station Bill Buckley. Iran also was involved in material and financial support to Palestinian oppostion groups, notably Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Iranian access to Lebanon requires Syrian cooperation. That cooperation comes in the form of use of Syrian airspace, airports and roads, and passage through Syrian military checkpoints. It is not uncommon to see Iranian air force cargo aircraft delivering material to Damascus International Airport for follow-on delivery to Lebanon's Biqa' Valley.

It is not inconceivable that Iran and Syria are coordinating their support for the insurgency in Iraq. Both have emnity towards the United States, and both are wary of the emergence of a successful, representative government in Iraq.

See also my April 2003 commentary on MSNBC.com at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3070263/.