About a month ago, Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Bagheri paid a rare visit to Damascus, according to Israeli media reports. It was intended as a show of unity between Tehran and the regime of President Bashar Assad, an expression of the excellent cooperation between the Shia allies in their fight against the Islamic State and opposition fighters — and, of course, “the Zionists.”
Bagheri and his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub, outlined “the basic principles” of cooperation between the two partners.
But from Iran’s perspective, Bagheri’s visit to the Syrian capital wasn’t totally successful, Walla! News reported Tuesday. For all the support Assad received from Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, during his bitter fight against those who seek to overthrow him, the Syrian dictator wasn’t keen on Tehran’s list of demands.
The Islamic Republic demanded, according to Walla, a 50-year lease on a Mediterranean naval base, the establishment of air bases throughout Syria and permission to mine phosphates — including uranium. While Syria didn’t reject the Iranian requests outright, its besieged regime indicated it prefers to advance into Iran’s warm embrace with caution, in a move that runs counter to the Western and Israeli narrative that Assad is nothing but Tehran’s stooge.
This isn’t to say Assad has suddenly developed a backbone in his dealings with Iran. But the Walla report indicates the Syrian president understands that a strong Iranian presence in Syria could cost him a confrontation with Israel.
Israel has said it holds Assad responsible for any spillover fighting into Israel’s borders, and repeatedly indicated it wouldn’t tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria.
Tehran had reason to believe Assad would accept their proposal. More than 500 Iranian soldiers have been killed over the last six years in the Syrian civil war and conflict in Iraq, including 10 generals, as well as about 1,000 Hezbollah fighters.
Iran’s demands pale in comparison to what the Russians got out of Assad, including a naval base on the Mediterranean, according to the Walla report.
The Jerusalem Post has not yet independently confirmed the Walla report.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.