Posts Tagged ‘ Injustice of Iran ’

Iran has no intention to leave Syria, top official says

July 13, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Iran has no intention of leaving Syria regardless of U.S. and Israeli pressure, a senior envoy to Iran’s leader said Friday, reaffirming a tough stance on the issue expected to top the agenda of the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit.

The statement from Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came in the wake of his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin that Israel wants Iran to leave Syria.

The high-level talks precede Monday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, who are set to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria. Both the U.S. and Israel want Iran to pull out of Syria, while Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.

A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Velayati reaffirmed Iran’s firm intention to maintain its presence in Syria, but skirted a question about a possible pullback from the border, saying only that Tehran won’t bow to U.S. and Israeli coercion.

“We coordinate the Iranian presence in Syria with Russia and Syria,” Velayati said during a meeting at Moscow’s Valdai Club discussion platform. “We will be present there the way we consider necessary. Sometimes we will play our role in Syria open-handed, sometimes we will do it with our hands hidden.”

While Velayati maintained a combative tone, his careful response reflected the intense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the Helsinki summit. He expressed skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, repeating tough criticism of the U.S. and saying he didn’t expect Trump to make any positive contribution to stabilizing the Middle East.

Velayati argued that Iran along with Russia helped stem fighting in Syria and prevented the country from falling to the Islamic State group and other militants, scoffing at the U.S. demands to leave. “We have come there without the Americans’ permission and we won’t heed their demands to leave,” he said.

Velayati also strongly warned Russia against listening to the U.S. arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria. “I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria,” he said. “They are trying to split our alliance.”

Study: Iran plays ‘destructive role’ in Iraq, Syria and 12 other nations

March 8, 2017

A joint study by two European non-governmental organisations that have strong links to EU parliamentarians and other senior European and international figures has accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and playing a “destructive role” in the region.

The study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), led by former Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, and the International Committee in Search for Justice (ISJ), both Brussels-based NGOs, paints a dire picture of Iranian interventionism in the region, and accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being directly involved.

“[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalized and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilization operations around the Middle East.

The report, released earlier this week, criticized the IRGC for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“In all four, the IRGC has a direct, considerable military presence,” the report detailed, adding that the troop presence in Syria alone in the summer of 2016 was “close to 70,000 Iranian regime proxy forces”. This included not only Iranians, but also sectarian Shia jihadists recruited, trained, funded and controlled by the IRGC, hailing from Iraq, Afghanistan and further afield.

The report exposed the locations of 14 IRGC training camps within Iran where its recruits are divided up according to their nation of origin and the tasks they are allotted, whether front line combat or international terrorist activities.

The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”

According to the researchers who compiled this report, one of the worst affected countries due to Iranian meddling and interventionism is Iraq. Even Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, who was recently appointed to the post in January 2017 used to be the head of the Iraq desk at the IRGC.

‘Designate IRGC as terrorists’

Iran has been increasingly emboldened to act since former US President Barack Obama authorized the much touted nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, the NGOs argued. The deal, brokered by the so-called P5+1, was designed to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions that likely sought to acquire atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since sanctions have been largely lifted at the beginning of 2016, Iran has enjoyed increased financial and economic clout, which it has subsequently invested in its efforts to destabilize and influence more than a dozen countries in the Middle East.

The main countries assessed in the report include: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Palestine. The latter is seen by experts on the region to be a public relations campaign conducted by Tehran to increase its Islamic credentials by appearing to support the Palestinians against Israel, while helping regimes around the region crush Palestinian refugee communities.

A prominent example of Iranian support for the brutal crackdowns against Palestinians was in Iraq after the illegal 2003 US-led invasion, where Palestinian refugees were perceived by Iran and their proxy Shia jihadists as being pro-Saddam Hussein. Iranian assistance for killing Palestinians also occurred in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, during the ongoing war against dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

Among its recommendations in its conclusion, the report argued that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, Europe and Middle East, with its operations curtailed and the organisation expelled from the entire Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria.

The NGOs also recommended “sanctioning all financial sources and companies affiliated with the IRGC” as well as “initiating international efforts to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the [IRGC’s] Quds Force.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria


World Exclusive: US urges UK and France to join in supplying arms to Syrian rebels as MPs fear that UK will be drawn into growing conflict

Washington’s decision to arm Syria’s Sunni Muslim rebels has plunged America into the great Sunni-Shia conflict of the Islamic Middle East, entering a struggle that now dwarfs the Arab revolutions which overthrew dictatorships across the region.

For the first time, all of America’s ‘friends’ in the region are Sunni Muslims and all of its enemies are Shiites. Breaking all President Barack Obama’s rules of disengagement, the US is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that a military decision has been taken in Iran – even before last week’s presidential election – to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against the largely Sunni rebellion that has cost almost 100,000 lives in just over two years. Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime, according to pro-Iranian sources which have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new ‘Syrian’ front on the Golan Heights against Israel.

In years to come, historians will ask how America – after its defeat in Iraq and its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for 2014 – could have so blithely aligned itself with one side in a titanic Islamic struggle stretching back to the seventh century death of the Prophet Mohamed. The profound effects of this great schism, between Sunnis who believe that the father of Mohamed’s wife was the new caliph of the Muslim world and Shias who regard his son in law Ali as his rightful successor – a seventh century battle swamped in blood around the present-day Iraqi cities of Najaf and Kerbala – continue across the region to this day. A 17th century Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott, compared this Muslim conflict to that between “Papists and Protestants”.

America’s alliance now includes the wealthiest states of the Arab Gulf, the vast Sunni territories between Egypt and Morocco, as well as Turkey and the fragile British-created monarchy in Jordan. King Abdullah of Jordan – flooded, like so many neighboring nations, by hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees – may also now find himself at the fulcrum of the Syrian battle. Up to 3,000 American ‘advisers’ are now believed to be in Jordan, and the creation of a southern Syria ‘no-fly zone’ – opposed by Syrian-controlled anti-aircraft batteries – will turn a crisis into a ‘hot’ war. So much for America’s ‘friends’.

Its enemies include the Lebanese Hizballah, the Alawite Shiite regime in Damascus and, of course, Iran. And Iraq, a largely Shiite nation which America ‘liberated’ from Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority in the hope of balancing the Shiite power of Iran, has – against all US predictions – itself now largely fallen under Tehran’s influence and power. Iraqi Shiites as well as Hizballah members, have both fought alongside Assad’s forces.

Washington’s excuse for its new Middle East adventure – that it must arm Assad’s enemies because the Damascus regime has used sarin gas against them – convinces no-one in the Middle East. Final proof of the use of gas by either side in Syria remains almost as nebulous as President George W. Bush’s claim that Saddam’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

For the real reason why America has thrown its military power behind Syria’s Sunni rebels is because those same rebels are now losing their war against Assad. The Damascus regime’s victory this month in the central Syrian town of Qusayr, at the cost of Hizballah lives as well as those of government forces, has thrown the Syrian revolution into turmoil, threatening to humiliate American and EU demands for Assad to abandon power. Arab dictators are supposed to be deposed – unless they are the friendly kings or emirs of the Gulf – not to be sustained. Yet Russia has given its total support to Assad, three times vetoing UN Security Council resolutions that might have allowed the West to intervene directly in the civil war.

In the Middle East, there is cynical disbelief at the American contention that it can distribute arms – almost certainly including anti-aircraft missiles – only to secular Sunni rebel forces in Syria represented by the so-called Free Syria Army. The more powerful al-Nusrah Front, allied to al-Qaeda, dominates the battlefield on the rebel side and has been blamed for atrocities including the execution of Syrian government prisoners of war and the murder of a 14-year old boy for blasphemy. They will be able to take new American weapons from their Free Syria Army comrades with little effort.

From now on, therefore, every suicide bombing in Damascus – every war crime committed by the rebels – will be regarded in the region as Washington’s responsibility. The very Sunni-Wahabi Islamists who killed thousands of Americans on 11th September, 2011 – who are America’s greatest enemies as well as Russia’s – are going to be proxy allies of the Obama administration. This terrible irony can only be exacerbated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adamant refusal to tolerate any form of Sunni extremism. His experience in Chechnya, his anti-Muslim rhetoric – he has made obscene remarks about Muslim extremists in a press conference in Russian – and his belief that Russia’s old ally in Syria is facing the same threat as Moscow fought in Chechnya, plays a far greater part in his policy towards Bashar al-Assad than the continued existence of Russia’s naval port at the Syrian Mediterranean city of Tartous.

For the Russians, of course, the ‘Middle East’ is not in the ‘east’ at all, but to the south of Moscow; and statistics are all-important. The Chechen capital of Grozny is scarcely 500 miles from the Syrian frontier. Fifteen per cent of Russians are Muslim. Six of the Soviet Union’s communist republics had a Muslim majority, 90 per cent of whom were Sunni. And Sunnis around the world make up perhaps 85 per cent of all Muslims. For a Russia intent on re-positioning itself across a land mass that includes most of the former Soviet Union, Sunni Islamists of the kind now fighting the Assad regime are its principal antagonists.

Iranian sources say they liaise constantly with Moscow, and that while Hizballah’s overall withdrawal from Syria is likely to be completed soon – with the maintenance of the militia’s ‘intelligence’ teams inside Syria – Iran’s support for Damascus will grow rather than wither. They point out that the Taliban recently sent a formal delegation for talks in Tehran and that America will need Iran’s help in withdrawing from Afghanistan. The US, the Iranians say, will not be able to take its armor and equipment out of the country during its continuing war against the Taliban without Iran’s active assistance. One of the sources claimed – not without some mirth — that the French were forced to leave 50 tanks behind when they left because they did not have Tehran’s help.

It is a sign of the changing historical template in the Middle East that within the framework of old Cold War rivalries between Washington and Moscow, Israel’s security has taken second place to the conflict in Syria. Indeed, Israel’s policies in the region have been knocked askew by the Arab revolutions, leaving its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hopelessly adrift amid the historic changes.

Only once over the past two years has Israel fully condemned atrocities committed by the Assad regime, and while it has given medical help to wounded rebels on the Israeli-Syrian border, it fears an Islamist caliphate in Damascus far more than a continuation of Assad’s rule. One former Israel intelligence commander recently described Assad as “Israel’s man in Damascus”.  Only days before President Mubarak was overthrown, both Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called Washington to ask Obama to save the Egyptian dictator. In vain.

If the Arab world has itself been overwhelmed by the two years of revolutions, none will have suffered from the Syrian war in the long term more than the Palestinians. The land they wish to call their future state has been so populated with Jewish Israeli colonists that it can no longer be either secure or ‘viable’. ‘Peace’ envoy Tony Blair’s attempts to create such a state have been laughable. A future ‘Palestine’ would be a Sunni nation. But today, Washington scarcely mentions the Palestinians.

Another of the region’s supreme ironies is that Hamas, supposedly the ‘super-terrorists’ of Gaza, have abandoned Damascus and now support the Gulf Arabs’ desire to crush Assad. Syrian government forces claim that Hamas has even trained Syrian rebels in the manufacture and use of home-made rockets.

In Arab eyes, Israel’s 2006 war against the Shia Hizballah was an attempt to strike at the heart of Iran. The West’s support for Syrian rebels is a strategic attempt to crush Iran. But Iran is going to take the offensive. Even for the Middle East, these are high stakes. Against this fearful background, the Palestinian tragedy continues.

Source: The Independent.


Lebanon demands explanation from Iran over troops

September 17, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has asked for official clarifications from Iran over statements by a senior commander that they have military advisers in Lebanon.

A statement released by Suleiman’s office says the president made his comments Monday while receiving Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi. The top commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Sunday that his force has high-level advisers in Lebanon and Syria. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari’s comments marked the clearest indication of Iran’s direct assistance to its main Arab allies, Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told reporters that the Guard’s Quds force have been in Syria and Lebanon as advisers for a long time, but was not more specific. The statement said Ambassador Roknabadi denied there were advisers in Lebanon.

Turkey, Iran Bump Heads Over Syria

August 25, 2011

When the call came in from Iran on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered his convoy to pull off onto the shoulders of a busy highway for a conversation that last some 40 minutes.

What the Turkish leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke about hasn’t been revealed in any detail. The Turkish media said virtually nothing, while Iran’s press reported that their country’s leader urged Erdogan to help mediate between region’s beleaguered despots and the opposition. Almost certainly the conversation was tense.

Just a few months ago the two countries were friends – joined together by growing trade ties, worries about their restive Kurdish populations and by shared Muslim sentiment. But the turmoil of the Arab Spring has quickly found the two countries in opposing camps, especially over Syria and its president, Bashar Al-Asad.

“There’s no doubt that Syria is becoming a battleground,” said Fadi Hakura, Turkey expert at London’s Chatham House. “Turkey has expressed deep dissatisfaction with the approach of the Syrian regime and has called on Al-Asad to implement radical reforms and meaningful dialogue with the opposition, which will inevitably dilute the strategic relationship between Syria and Iran. Iran views the existence of the current regime as an existential issue.”

Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have framed the fighting in Syria as a battle by Al-Asad to stop U.S. from meddling in the country’s affairs while Turkey’s Erdogan has focused on the bloodletting and the regime’s failure to meet demands for democratic reforms. He has stopped short of calling for Al-Asad to step down.

But the fight is more than a war of words. Although Tehran denies it, Iran is believed to be proving material support to the Al-Asad regime. Newspaper reports cite stories of Iranian snipers firing on protestors, technicians helping to block social networking and others providing advice on containing unrest gleaned from Iran’s experience putting down street protests following the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Turkey’s role in aiding the Syrian opposition has been more upfront but just as crucial. It has allowed about seven thousand Syrian refugees to cross into its territory and provide eyewitness accounts to the world media, thereby serving as an outlet for news of the Al-Asad regime’s repression. Istanbul has also hosted meetings of opposition groups. Some analysts say Ankara – together with the U.S. – is working to bring cohesion and organization to the disparate groups.

On Tuesday, Syrian activists gathered in Turkey declared a national council to coordinate protests and bring about Al-Asad’s ouster.

In spite of the deep interests at stake, Iran had been hesitant to criticize Turkey until relatively recently, Alex Vatanka, a scholar of Iran at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, told The Media Line.

“The Iranians deeply appreciated improving relations with one of their most important neighbors, which has helped them in the nuclear issue in terms of economics and trade they didn’t want an issue like Syria to bring it all to an end,” Vatanka said. “But in end of the day, they reached a decision.”

Syria is not the first Arab Spring hotspot where Turkey and Iran have found themselves on opposite sides. Turkey backed Saudi Arabia when it helped crush a Shiite-led revolt in Bahrain, angering Iran’s Shiite regime. Iran praised Turkey’s initial opposition to NATO’s helping Libyan rebels, but Ankara eventually came around to supporting the bombing campaign. But Syria – whose president has since March struggled to contain a revolt seeking to topple him – is the place where the two powers have the most at stake.

Al-Asad’s regime is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world, sharing a strong antipathy to Israel and Western intervention in the Middle East and acting as a conduit to arms and supplies to militant groups like Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Belonging to the Alawi sect, an offshoot of Islam, Al-Asad has fewer problems with Iranian Shiism than the Arab world’s Sunni leaders do.

Under Erdogan, Turkey had worked assiduously in recent years to cultivate ties. Turkey shares a long border with Syria and the two countries both have large Kurdish populations they worry about. In recent years, the two countries signed a free-trade agreement and abolished visa requirements, enabling trade to double in the five years to 2010 and tourism to boom.

Warming relations with Syria were part of efforts by the prime minister – who leads the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) – to reorient Turkey away from the West and towards the Muslim Middle East. Turkey even viewed itself as a bridge between Sunni and Shiite Islam.

But, Hakura told The Media Line, the Arab Spring has put Turkey firmly in the Sunni “camp,” which not only includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf emirates and Jordan but, by virtue of their Western orientation, the U.S. and Europe. The shift in Turkey’s policy hasn’t been dramatic – it remained a NATO member and never abandoned its aspirations to join the European Union ¬ – but it made Tehran’s rulers livid.

Reflecting the views heard frequently in Tehran these days, Iran’s hardline Qods daily scored Turkish leaders for surrendering to U.S. pressure. “If Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government does not change its political behavior toward Syria, Turkey will be the main loser of the Syrian events if Damascus gets out of the current crisis,” it wrote in a recent editorial.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford to let their conflict ratchet up too much. Turkey gets 20% of the natural gas its needs for its booming economy from Iran, Hakura said. Facing United Nations sanctions, Iran can’t afford to lose a good customer.

Vatanka said that among top Iranian leaders, Ahmadinejad is probably the least inclined to sacrifice the relationship with Turkey to help save Al-Asad because of the damage fraying ties with Turkey would do to the economy.

“The president is looking at his own position in Iran and says ‘I’m someone who needs to reach out to the masses and get as much grassroots support as I can,” explained Vatanka. “So, one of the issues he has to worry about is bread and butter issues that ordinary Iranians care about the most.”

Source: Rise of the Iranian People.

Khamenei won’t support Assad to the end

Saturday 13 August 2011
Meir Javedanfar

Iran and Syria have long been allies, yet as if Khameni realizes Assad’s situation is not salvageable, he will abandon him.

For President Bashar al-Assad, the situation in Syria is becoming worse every day. In the middle of the biggest crisis his regime has faced, he has had one friend on whom he could rely: Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei has been Assad’s steadfast friend, providing him with political as well as material support. But as Assad’s position worsens, he will need to rely on Khamenei’s regime more, especially since an increasing number of Assad’s neighbors are turning against him.

First was Turkey, which used to be a close ally. Now, the Turkish government is putting pressure on Assad and warning him to stop killing demonstrators and to implement reforms as soon as possible. And then the Saudis joined in by telling Assad to stop “his killing machine” and withdrawing their ambassador. A number of other Gulf states followed suit.

Assad has good reason to rely on Khamenei. The two regimes have been allies for many years. They have common interests with regard to Israel, Palestine, and groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In fact Assad would be right to assume that the Iranian government owes his family. While most of the Middle East backed Iraq in its eight-year war against Iran, it was Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad who stood against the tide.

Despite the closeness between the two leaders and the regimes, Syria’s president should be under no illusion: Ali Khamenei is his friend, but he will not sink with Assad’s ship. The moment the Iranian leader realizes that Assad’s situation is not salvageable, he will leave him. This will most probably be done privately. In public, Khamenei and the rest of the Iranian regime will continue their support. They may even offer Bashar refuge in Iran. But, behind the scenes, it would be another story.

The reason is very simple: many have said that the Iranian regime is extremist. This is true. It is extremist about its own well-being. To Khamenei there is nothing more important and sacred than this. He is ready to sacrifice anything that would pose a risk to it – including Bashar al-Assad. And one day, if the political and economic costs of Iran’s nuclear program start threatening the regime’s stability and interests, he would give that up too.

Khamenei will not commit political suicide by staying with Assad until the last moment. Doing so would be very damaging for the regime’s interests. Iran is becoming more isolated every day. It does not need a new enemy in Damascus in the event of Assad’s fall, especially when this could impact on its ability to supply weapons to Hezbollah through Syrian territory (not to mention relations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which it conducts through its offices in Damascus). It could also lose access to its economic interests in Syria.

These interests are all important to Khamenei, and he will want to protect them. Therefore Assad should not be surprised if one day he finds that, while Iran supports him publicly, behind the scenes its leaders are anticipating his demise by cavorting with members of the Syrian opposition.

For now, we don’t know if the Iranian government is doing this but the noted change in Iran’s English-language government press – especially since the clashes started in Homs province – may indicate how things inside Iran’s corridors of power are changing.

At an official level, the state-owned PressTV continues to support Assad’s regime. PressTV has been full of reports about demonstrators being backed by foreign powers (Israel, the UK and the US are the usual suspects). However, after the clashes started in Homs, PressTV also started reporting Syrian forces firing on crowds, as well as quoting human rights activists who openly state that the Syrian army has been attacking civilians.

When the protests in Syria first broke out many Persian media outlets in Iran stayed mute on the demonstrations. However, these days they are not only reporting on them but many are openly critical of Assad – much more than the English-language government-owned press.

A good example appeared on 28 July in the Jomhouri Eslami newspaper, a publication which has been close to Khamenei over the years. In an article headed “Assad’s salvation is in reforms and not in the barrel of the guns”, it said:

“A question which Assad and his advisers have to answer is: how long can they continue with armed confrontation and violence? Can they use more violence than Gaddafi and bombard demonstrators like him? Did Gaddafi’s use of violence return the people to their homes?”

The article went on to say that the Syrian army had killed hundreds in the cities of Dera’a and Homs. This is a far cry from the early days of the Syrian uprising when civilian casualties were ignored, while news agencies such as Mehr reported on “millions of demonstrators” supporting Assad.

According to Masoud Adrisi, Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has now changed his position and is asking Assad to respond to his population’s demands. The change in tone of reports from Iran could indicate that Khamenei is following Nasrallah, albeit at a slower pace. Sometimes a teacher can learn from his student.

Source: The Guardian.

Iran agrees to fund Syrian military base

By Con Coughlin
12 Aug 2011

Iran has agreed to fund a new multi-million-dollar military base on the Syrian coast to make it easier to ship weapons and other military hardware between the two countries, according to Western intelligence reports.

Under the terms of the deal, which was concluded after a high-level Syrian delegation visited Tehran, Iran is to assist with the development of a new military compound at Latakia airport which will be completed by the end of next year. The aim of the agreement is to open a supply route that will enable Iran to transfer military hardware directly to Syria.

Western security officials say the deal was agreed following a visit to Tehran in June by Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek, Syria’s deputy vice-president for security affairs and an ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran and Syria have enjoyed a close strategic alliance for decades, founded on their mutual antipathy towards the West. In return for Iranian military support, Syria has supported Tehran’s attempts to develop the Islamic fundamentalist Hizbollah militia into a major political force in neighboring Lebanon.

In recent months, Iran has been deeply alarmed at the nationwide protests in Syria against the Assad regime. Western diplomats claim that Iran has been sending riot control equipment, as well as intelligence monitoring techniques and oil, to Damascus to help Mr Assad regain control over his country.

But Iranian efforts to provide clandestine support have suffered several setbacks after Turkish officials intercepted a number of arms shipments destined for Syria.

Last week, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, confirmed that Turkey had seized a truck full of weapons traveling from Iran to Syria. The seizure was made on April 30 by Turkish officials at the border city of Kilis but was only made public this month after details of the haul were published in the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Turkey seized the cargo of an Iranian plane bound for Syria in March because the shipment violated UN sanctions. The Turkish media reported that an Iranian Yas Air freight plane, which was bound for the Syrian city of Aleppo, was allowed to pass through Turkish airspace only on condition that it made a “technical stop” at Diyarbakir airport in south-east Turkey. On March 21, Turkish officials found that equipment listed as “auto spare parts” on the plane’s documents were a consignment of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns and mortars.

The arms shipments are a clear breach of sanctions imposed against Iran by the UN Security Council over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, which expressly forbids arms exports.

“The direct route is being set up to make it easier to pass advanced Iranian weapons and equipment to Syria,” said a senior Western security official.

The Latakia deal was negotiated by Mr Kheirbek, who has been identified as one of the most powerful figures within Syria’s security establishment. Mr Kheirbek, whose son also holds a senior post in Syria’s internal security, is now the subject of US sanctions over his liaison role with Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. During his visit to Tehran, he met Ghasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Under the terms of the agreement, Iran plans to fly hundreds of tons of weapons to Latakia on freight planes which have a capacity of up to 40 tons each.

Teams of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers are to be stationed at Latakia on a permanent basis, where they will co-ordinate the arms shipments with officials from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence service.

A similar joint command center was set up at Damascus international airport earlier this year, but Latakia is regarded as a more suitable destination as it is not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as Damascus. For this reason Iran has agreed to provide $23 million to build a new complex at Latakia airport to handle the arms shipments, which are likely to include machine-guns, rockets and medium-range missiles.

• President Assad’s Ramadan offensive against his own people appeared to have failed yesterday after anti-regime demonstrations erupted across Syria.

At least 10 people were killed in various parts of the country as the security forces responded with the violence that has become familiar since the uprising began five months ago.

Source: The Daily Telegraph.