Jan. 24, 2019
- Iran Increasing Its Sway in Southwestern Syria – Hanin Ghaddar and Dana Stroul
Iran is heavily invested in securing Damascus and the zone extending to the Lebanese border. In Tehran’s view, this requires systematic demographic changes. Over the past year, Sunni communities have been pushed out of their long-time homes and replaced by people friendly to Iran and the Assad regime.
Hizbullah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have purchased numerous properties; according to reports quoting Syrian officials, more than 8,000 properties in the Damascus area have been transferred to foreign Shia owners in the past three years. Iran is also transforming local Sunni mosques into Shia religious centers and shrines, as well as constructing new Shia meeting halls, mosques, and schools.
Over the past six months, Iranian personnel have established military posts and security networks across the southwestern province of Deraa. Concurrently, they and their Hizbullah proxies have constructed at least eight local Shia religious centers and five religious schools. Iran is also reportedly offering jobs to young Sunnis. For $200 a month, many unemployed young men would rather join Iran’s militias in noncombat roles than be arrested, conscripted, or killed by the Assad regime.
Hanin Ghaddar, a veteran Lebanese journalist, is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, where Dana Stroul is a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)