Syria and Iran Cement Military ties

DEBKAfile Special Report

1 March 2004

The visit Iranian defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, paid to Damascus Saturday, February 28, distanced the Assad regime further than ever from Washington and Europe. He and Syrian defense minister General Mustafa Tlas affixed their signatures to a new military pact. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal its key clause as being an Iranian pledge to invest in additional long-range Scud C missile production lines at Syria’s underground missile facility in Hamah. Tehran will also transfer technology for the manufacture in Syria of advanced Iranian Shihab-3 missiles as well as financing expanded production of long-range artillery and ammunition.

The pact marks Syrian president Bashar Assad’s decision to turn away from efforts to start a dialogue with the Americans and Europeans. He is not willing to pay the price they demand of scrapping his long-range missile programs and weapons of mass destruction or ending his sponsorship of terrorists. On all three issues, he and Iran’s hardline rulers are of one mind.

The Syrian president may also calculate that the European Union will eventually give way and relent on its stipulations for a reciprocal trade accord with Damascus. If this happens, the Europeans may be expected to lean hard on Washington to tone down its pressure on Syria.

Recently the Syrian ruler sent a note to President George W. Bush offering to lay the Golan issue aside in initial stages of peace talks with Israel. He also proposed channeling US-Syrian exchanges through the CIA-Syrian military intelligence track.

His note went unanswered.

Assad is reported by our sources to have remarked to a recent Western visitor to Damascus that Syria is a state not a welfare organization and anything demanded of it has a price. He asked what Washington had to offer.

Left without military back-up by the fall of the Saddam regime almost a year ago, Damascus has therefore opted to shore up and expand its existing ties with Tehran. The radical Iranian regime, fortified by its strong parliamentary showing in last month’s election, has thus recovered the advantage of a convenient transition route through Damascus airport for the re-supply of its Lebanon-based terrorist infrastructure with hardware and manpower.