Iran will take over management of the port at the Syrian city of Latakia from October 1st, 2019, as per an agreement between the two countries, Asia Times reported.
This fulfills a long-standing aim of Tehran to secure access to the Mediterranean and shows that Syria-Iran co-operation is getting even deeper.
US and Israeli actions to limit the Iranian presence in Syria have resulted in almost no success. Their backing of militant groups operating in the coutnry only strengthened the Syrian-Iranian relations in the spheres of security and military.
Earlier, on February 25th Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s visited Tehran, where he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The trip was Assad’s first since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, approximately 9 years ago.
In recent months, a number of industrial, military, and energy deals between Tehran and Damascus have been made public, including one that provides for the establishment of power stations in Latakia. The port-management agreement is another building block in Iran’s project to maintain its presence in Syria.
Iran has also promised to address Syria’s ongoing fuel shortage by sending all future shipments of heating fuel, cooking fuel, and gasoline to the Iranian-leased section of Latakia, once it is fully operational.
Up until now, the port was operated by a French and Syrian company. The French company may take the issue to court to demand compensation from the Syrian government after it annulled its operating contract.
Asia Times speculated that the move may also impact Russian troops deployed in the nearby area. Russia operates a fortified airbase in Hmeimim in the Latakia province, and a port in the city of Tartus.
“The lease of Latakia will not only end Russia’s exclusive presence in the coastal district, it may also put Russian troops and military vehicles at risk.
Hmeimim was subjected to a series of drone attacks between January and October of 2018 and having the Iranians so close would create a higher risk of similar operations in the area, whether by Israel, the United States, or other players on the Syrian battlefield seeking to settle old scores with the Iranians.
A permanent Iranian presence in Latakia could limit and possibly obstruct Russian surveillance and intelligence gathering, jam their radio-electronic technology, and jeopardize Russian air-defenses, aircraft, and the lives of military personnel.”
The decision on Syria’s part took almost a year to take, since Iran made an official request in February 2018 to be allowed to operate the port. It did, however, appear to be according to plan, since in November 2018 Iran announced the construction of a railway that would go through Iraq and lead to the Syrian port. It was claimed that it was to help Iraq, because it couldn’t afford to build such a route.
Since the Iraqis have stated that they cannot afford construction of the railway to Basra, the railway was decided to receive Iran’s financing which will be paid back by the Iraqi side later,” Deputy Head of RAI for Infrastructure and Technical Affairs Maziyar Yazdani said.
There is also no official response by Israel, which is a staunch opposer of any Iranian presence in Syria.
Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel was prepared to block routes for Iranian oil exports. He also said that Israel and Russia would work together to remove all foreign forces from Syria. However, it’s obviuos that Moscow and Tel Aviv have a very different understanding of the term “foreign forces” in the regard of the Syrian conflict.
Israel’s rhetoric has always been aggressive towards Iran, but recent exchanges have shown both countries threatening the other. Both claiming that they could easily handle the enemy.