“Jaysh is essentially an Iran-Hezbollah joint venture,” said David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. “Given the other constraints on Iranian resources right now, it’s obvious that this is an important proxy group for them.”
In slapping sanctions on the militia in December, the Treasury Department said Iran had provided it with “routine funding worth millions of dollars.”
A Treasury statement noted that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commander has said that Jaysh was “modeled after Iran’s own Basij,” which it described as “a paramilitary force subordinate to the IRGC that has been heavily involved in the violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran since the June 2009 contested presidential election.”
In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and thereby its leverage against Israel.
Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an airport or seaport, it could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics.
Preservation of an Iranian-supported area on the coast has always been “Plan C or Plan D” for core regime supporters, Salem said. “If everything fails and they lose, they have always prepared for the fortress region
. . .
with everything they can cart away, even if they lose Damascus.”
“That’s not necessarily what they want,” he said. “They want to hold on to the whole thing.” But the worst-case scenario is that “the whole regime relocates to the northwest, and they still have the most powerful [armed] unit inside Syria, with a lot of the current structure.”
Newly installed Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed during his confirmation hearing last month the administration’s concern that Syria could break apart, saying that “one of the scenarios everybody’s talking about is that people could sort of break up off into their places . . .
and you could have a disintegration, and who knows where that leads?”
“These are the risks,” Kerry said. “I mean, this is what is at stake in this new world that we’re dealing with. And nobody could sit here and tell you how it all plays out.”
In a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council last week, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi cited two “big risks that are of serious concern to the international community.”
“The first is the transformation of Syria into a playground for competing regional forces, governments and non-state actors alike,” Brahimi said. “This process is largely underway.” The second risk, he said, is “full-fledged regionalization of the Syrian civil war.”