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November 15, 2017 6:17 pm

Countering Iranian Expansion ‘Must Be Bipartisan Priority,’ Says Democratic Congressman

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Gen. Qasem Soleimani (center), commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s IRGC, with Shia militia members in Syria. Photo: ABN news agency.

The Democratic congressman who initiated a letter signed by 42 of his colleagues to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson protesting Iranian interference in Syria said on Wednesday that preventing Tehran’s military expansion needs to be a “bipartisan priority.”

“A permanent Iranian presence in Syria is unacceptable,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) told The Algemeiner. “I am concerned Iran is using the conflict in Syria to gain a military foothold on the doorstep of Israel and other regional allies, and supply terrorist organizations like Hezbollah with deadly weapons.”

Schneider said he had been “proud to co-lead” the letter to Tillerson with his colleague Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL). “Preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in the region must be a bipartisan priority,” Schneider emphasized.

The congressional letter sent to Tillerson on Tuesday noted that Iran had provided powerful military and financial support to stabilize the dictatorship of Tehran’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad. The letter said that up to 1,800 personnel from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were on the ground in Syria along with regular Iranian troops, “which would mark a significant departure from a historical policy of keeping regular armed forces within Iran’s borders.”

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Highlighting Iran’s goal of creating a “Shia corridor” stretching from Iran’s western borders to the Mediterranean coast, the letter declared that “any agreement or policy that allows Iran to station forces on or near Israel and Jordan’s border does not serve US interests.” The congressmen urged Tillerson to develop a strategy to block Iranian arms supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon and prevent the Tehran regime from gaining a permanent foothold in the territories around Israel.

The letter to Tillerson came amid rising concern in the US and Israel that the Trump administration has failed to stem Iran’s military and political influence in the region, especially in the wake of the routing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria throughout this year by Kurdish and US-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Last month, the White House adopted a “neutral” stance in the face of an Iranian-backed onslaught on the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, which voted by a 93 percent majority for independence in a September 25 referendum. Iraqi government forces and pro-Iranian Shia militias used American weapons and vehicles in the offensive, which resulted in the loss to the Kurds of the historic city of Kirkuk. The operation was reportedly directed by Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, who has been spotted regularly on battlefields in Syria and Lebanon as well.

In tandem, thousands of Hezbollah fighters have been redeployed by Iran to the borders of Syria with Israel and Jordan, eliciting expressions of concern this week from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. A recent report by a group of senior former NATO officers described Hezbollah as the “most powerful non-state armed force on the planet,” which currently has “well over 100,000” missiles aimed in Israel’s direction.

America’s reluctance to jeopardize its partnership with Moscow in defeating ISIS has left US policymakers with little leverage over Iran, which stands alongside Russia in backing the Assad regime. US entreaties for the withdrawal of Iranian and other foreign forces from Syria appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisting on Tuesday that Iran’s presence in the war-ravaged country was, like that of Russia itself, “legitimate.”

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