Iran's land-grab in Syria
Iran's government and companies close to the elite Revolutionary Guards have signed major economic contracts with Syria, gaining control of large areas of the country in what appear to be lucrative rewards for helping President Bashar Assad regain control of territory from rebels. Five memorandums of understanding were signed during a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis to Tehran on Jan. 17, including a licence for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria, and phosphate mining contracts. "We greatly appreciate Iran's major role in combating terrorism and standing by the Syrian people in every way, politically and economically," Khamis said. Syria will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for farming, and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals. A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.
More than 1,000 troops deployed by the Revolutionary Guards have been killed in the Syrian conflict in recent years. Apart from military assistance, Syria is increasingly indebted to Iran financially. Tehran opened a $3.5 billion credit line in 2013, and extended it by $1 billion in 2015, which economists say has helped keep the Syrian economy afloat.
"These agreements represent further a blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty as they are meant to reward an occupation force in return for its involvement in shedding the Syrian people's blood and attempting to break their will," the opposition Syrian National Coalition said in a statement. (Middle East Eye, Jan. 19)
Iranian forces have been accused "sectarian cleansing" of Sunnis from regime-conquered areas, where it now appears Tehran is being granted direct control. Russia, also with a massive military presence in Syria, has meanwhile been granted generous oil and gas concessions in Syria.