Iran’s president visits Syria as he seeks to bolster Tehran’s sway over ally

Iran’s president visited Syria on Wednesday for the primary time since a civil battle that broke out in 2011 shattered the Arab state, looking for to increase Tehran’s sway over its longtime ally because it prepares for reconstruction.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s journey comes as some Arab states, which minimize ties with the Syrian regime and backed the opposition, are tentatively re-engaging with Damascus, a regime reliant on alliances with Iran and Russia for greater than a decade.

“Raisi’s go to is a present of energy to say that we managed to assist maintain Assad in energy and are going to proceed to maintain our sturdy presence within the area,” mentioned one Tehran-based political analyst. “Iran needs to have an higher hand within the peacetime too.”

The Saudi overseas minister hosted his Syrian counterpart in Riyadh final month, whereas Saudi Arabia additionally agreed to normalise relations with its arch-rival Iran beneath a Chinese language-brokered settlement in March.

Tehran’s navy and monetary backing for President Bashar al-Assad was essential in his battle in opposition to rebels and strengthened Syria’s bond with the Islamic republic, an ally because the 1979 revolution. With help from Russia and Iran, Assad regained management of many of the nation, with the remnants of the armed opposition controlling enclaves in north-west Syria.

Raisi met Assad on Wednesday. Iran’s overseas ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, mentioned that since “Iran stood by the Syrian authorities, military and nation throughout its combat in opposition to terrorism”, it may now “have a figuring out function in serving to restore battle injury”.

Keyvan Kashefi, a member of Iran’s chamber of commerce concerned in Syria commerce ties, mentioned: “We hope Raisi’s go to might help create a mechanism by which we will have a return on loans and credit score traces to Syria [during the war]. We’d like a brand new platform by which Iran can be extra concerned in commerce with Syria and assist the reconstruction of that nation.”

Though no Iranian president visited Damascus throughout the battle, Assad has been to Iran twice since 2011 to fulfill Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s supreme chief has supplied unwavering help for Syria and the Lebanese militant motion Hizbollah as a part of his technique to comprise Israel, Tehran’s essential regional foe, past the Islamic republic’s borders.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, left, with Iran’s supreme chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran in 2019 © Iranian Chief Press Workplace/Anadolu Company/Getty Photographs

Iran’s accord with Saudi Arabia would ease political and financial stress on the republic and increase regional commerce, mentioned analysts in Tehran.

Bilateral commerce between Damascus and Tehran is value about $250mn a 12 months, with Iran accounting for almost all of exports, however may attain at the very least $1bn if obstacles reminiscent of Syria’s excessive tariffs had been eased, Kashefi mentioned. He acknowledged that the dangers of Israeli assaults on Iran’s cargoes by way of sea or land had deterred commerce. Syria is Iran’s essential landbridge to ship navy and monetary support to Hizbollah.

“The official border crossing [through Iraq] will not be protected for Iranian vans, as some vans carrying gas have been set on fireplace,” mentioned Hamid Hosseini, a petrochemicals dealer who added that commerce routes by Iraq may turn out to be much less dangerous after Iran’s “warming up of relations with Saudi Arabia”.

Iran’s leaders hope elevated regional commerce can even increase Tehran’s financial independence from the west. The nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers has been moribund since then US president Donald Trump unilaterally deserted the deal in 2018 and imposed waves of sanctions on the republic.

“Syria will not be an enormous marketplace for Iran however we can not afford to lose even small markets,” mentioned Saeed Laylaz, an analyst of Iran’s political financial system. “Iran prefers to promote crude to Syria even when it doesn’t pay on time as an alternative of not promoting in any respect and shedding that market.”

Tehran has gained management of a few of Syria’s phosphate mines, an important supply of feedstock for Iran’s fertiliser manufacturing, whereas it hopes to export extra meals merchandise, petrochemicals, development supplies and engineering providers to Syria. Additionally it is looking for funding in its telecommunications sector.

“If the land path to Syria by way of Iraq turns into protected, then Iran can have one thing to say in Syria,” mentioned Hosseini. “However beneath the present circumstances, the transportation prices and dangers of commerce with Syria make a significant growth very troublesome.”

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