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Iran building militias in Syria as Assad grip falters: report

AFP-JIJI

Iran and its Lebanese-based ally, Hezbollah, are trying to build a network of militias inside Syria to protect their interests there in case President Bashar Assad falls, The Washington Post reported.

Citing unnamed U.S. and Middle Eastern officials, the paper said that Iran’s goal appears to be to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into sectarian enclaves.

The Post quoted a senior Arab official as saying that Iran’s strategy in Syria has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses,” the official said.

Tehran’s allies in Syria include Shiite and Alawite communities concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia, the paper said.

Under the most likely scenarios, it is there that remnants of Assad’s government would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Iran, said the report. This enclave would be heavily dependent on the Iranians for survival and help them retain a link to Hezbollah, the paper said.