The director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that Iran has plans to turn Syria into a province of the Islamic Republic, Business Insider reported.
During a discussion at the Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC on January 11, Dore Gold said he “firmly believes Iran wants to turn Syria into a province of Iran.”
The diplomat, who also served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, posited that Iran is “involved in creating a social and political change that incorporates Syria into the Iranian state.”
One of the ways Iran is achieving this is by heavily promoting Shi’ite Islam in Syria. Gold said that, as far as Israel is concerned, Iranian religious outreach in Syria isn’t just “a question of building Shi’ite mosques. It’s a question of a permanent deployment against Israel from the north. That’s something we cannot accept.”
With Israel already deeply concerned about the Iran deal’s ability to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, a potential Iranian stronghold on the Jewish state’s northern border would significantly increase the threat.
Philip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and leading expert on Shi’ite militia movements, told Business Insider that Iran’s actions in Syria are consistent with the regime’s broader revolutionary goals.
“Gold makes a valid point,” wrote Smyth. “There have been Iranian moves to convert people, build Syrian versions of Hezbollah, and place more forces in Syria.”
He added, “The revolutionary ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran has a very long-term goal to incorporate many states/groups into a broader political project.”
Smyth noted that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, “was not a supporter of Iranian nationalism (unless he needed to use it to rally fighters/build support) and wanted a true and total pan-Islamic government under his religious guidelines/ideology.”
However, Smyth said that Iran is limited in what it can accomplish in Syria. “The international system would have some serious problems with Syria becoming Iran’s newest de jure province. Even in terms of de facto control, it’s not as if Iran has a completely free hand to do as it pleases.”