According to a report in the Washington Post on Sunday, Iran and Hezbollah are preparing themselves for the day when the Syrian regime led by Bashar Assad is overthrown. Quoting officials in the U.S. and Middle East, the paper reports that Iran and Hezbollah are building a "network of militias inside Syria" that will protect their interests in a post-Assad Syria.
Officials believe that Iran is cultivating operatives on the ground that can be relied upon in the event that Assad is no longer in power and Syrians are fragmented along religious and ethnic lines. A senior official in the Obama administration referred to Tehran's claims it was supporting up to 50,000 militiamen in Syria, the Washington Post reported.
"Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. 'One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.'"
Syrian rebel forces are comprised almost entirely of the country's Sunni majority, however they are themselves fragmented, divided along religious, political and geographic lines. There are also the relatively powerful and independent Kurdish militias and about 700,000 Druze citizens, who are increasingly siding with the rebels.
According to the report, it should not come as a surprise that Iran is preparing the ground for a post-Assad Syria, as it has done so with the Shi'ite population in Lebanon during its civil war in the 1970's, which led to the birth of Hezbollah and similarly in Iraq after the U.S. invasion.
"Tehran’s interest in preserving a Syrian base partly explains why the financially strapped Iranian government continues to lavish resources on groups such as Jaysh al-Sha’bi, an alliance of local Shiite and Alawite militias that receives weapons and cash from Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials who have studied the organization. The groups are receiving military training from officers from Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)," the Post reported.
The civil war in Syria is one of the primary topics U.S. President Barack Obama will speak about on his trip to Israel next month. "The president and I spoke about this visit and agreed that we would discuss three main issues Iran's attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons, the unstable situation in Syria and the efforts to advance the diplomatic process of peace between the Palestinians and us," Netanyahu said on Sunday.
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