Iran Strategic goals of converting the Syrian Euphrates Valley into Shia is not related to the consequences of the conflict in Syria, which has been ongoing for seven years. The Iranian objective comes in the context of a much older strategic plan, the regime in Tehran has been working on in neighboring Arab countries already.
Missionary campaigns to spread Shia doctrine have been focusing on the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzour, mainly in Hatla and Murat, Al Bu Kamal and surrounding areas near the border with Iraq. This has been intended to be part of a large conversion process to the Shia doctrine, conducted by the Iranian regime.
This process of converting people goes back to 1987, when it started with a limited number of preachers. The strategy has been based on donations to the needy people. But in fact they just wanted to lay the foundation for a pro-Iranian community. Iranians followed implicit cultural and economic methods for the spread of Shia doctrine among residents of Al Rakkah and Deir Ezzour before the start of the Syrian Revolution. We can say that the Shia doctrine spred in some villages of Deir Ezzour years before the Revolution, and this was very dominant in two villages, Hatla in the Northern Countryside and Al Jafra’ in the Eastern Countryside of Deir Ezzour, in which 80% of the population converted to Shia, whereas in some other villages like Sa’awa and Al Kasra, about 10% of the population converted.
Political goals of Conversion to Shia
Iranian hidden objectives by converting people in the Euphrates valley are based on their strategy to separate people in Al Rakkah and Deir Ezzour from those in Al Anbar area of Iraq. Iran’s main intention is to divide these two regions that are of the same religious identity. Having this Shia strip will, according to Iran’s plan, constitute a barrier between Sunnis living in the north of Baghdad and Al Anbar Province on the one hand and Syrian Sunnis living in cities east of Syria on the other. Iran was silently working on this due to the bad life conditions that burdened the population in the Euphrates valley before the revolution. Iran is still working hard to fulfil its goals. It was racing time to accomplish its project that aims at creating a local public melting pot, intended to ally with Iran like what happened in Lebanon and Yemen before it would be forced out of Syria by the international community.
Iran exerted its efforts to create a new political situation in the Syrian Euphrates valley. This conversion will create a pro-Iranian base that facilitates taking care of its Shia crescent extending from Tehran to the Mediterranean across Iraq and Syria. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq will be connected to one political administration in Tehran, and this will somehow restore the glories of the new would-be „Persian Empire.“
According to this, the conversion process is being done in many different ways. Iran is exploiting the public anger with IS in Iraq and Sham ISIS and the local’s need for humanitarian aids, education and health care to promote its ideology. Iranian militias and their allies have mixed with civilians to implement the Iranian project through the possession of real estates and granting its mercenaries Syrian ownership documents and tempt the poor to convert to the Shia doctrine.
These procedures can help us understand the significance of the demographic changes in Syria and particularly in the Euphrates valley. We can also understand how these demographic changes play a key role for dominating Syria. Iran depends on the availability of money, logical framework for their project, the Persian Empire in addition to having a comprehensive ideological vision used for political and economic domination. All these are hidden under one title, which is conversion to the Shia doctrine.
The Iranian project is an integral part of a revolution-export that was set by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Successive leaders of Iran have always covered this theory by illusive concepts like resistance, unity of the Islamic world and the war against Israel. They have been doing so to uphold the threats of political game in the Arabic region and twist these concepts in the service of an Iranian Empire project.
Iran’s efforts to create the Shia crescent means making this geographic passage extending from Tehran to the Mediterranean across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, inhibited by a Shiite majority.
A neutral observer of Iran’s political and military behavior, understanding the goals of the Iranian leadership can easily conclude that Iran is working hard to build up its nationalistic Persian empire. The restoration of the glory of the Persian Empire could only succeed by dominating Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Economic goals of conversion into Shia
Iran can’t attain its objectives of economic domination in these three countries, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon without protecting its Shia crescent. Thus, economy plays a key role in reinforcing the Iranian domination. Ever since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came to power, Iran has been keen on creating its own economic cantons inside the Arab countries. These cantons are intended to gradually expand through the Iranian economic lobbies, controlling the economy of these three Arab countries. This project is obvious in Syria, as the state of Faqih plans to conquer as much of the Syrian territories as possible by military means. Also, Iranians have been recently buying real estates especially in Damascus and Aleppo.
To be attainable, Iran’s economic goals need military, political and ideological means. Therefore, Iran fervently attempts to have the whip of upper hand over energy resources in Syria, including but not limited to phosphate, oil and gas as most of these resources lie in the eastern part of Syria, the Euphrates valley and its nomadic areas.
Iran, which seeks to dominate Syria politically, knows that economic domination will help in making Syria politically mortgaged to Tehran’s political will. This has been clear in many statements issued by Iranian officials, expressing deep concern about the Syrian regime not considering the sacrifices of Iran in defending that regime. Iranians have been irritated by the eminent economic privileges granted to the Russia by the Syrian Regime. These statements reveal Iran’s greed to exploit Syrian economic resources through supporting a suppressive criminal regime in return for full domination of Syria. It has been clear how Iran is investing in education, health and other social services. These investments, which have been focusing on poor areas that suffer from the lack of education in some areas of Deir Ezzour countryside, constitute the basis for converting people to Shia. This happened in villages like Jedeed Bakara, Al Harmoushia, Al Huseiniah, Sour, Hatllah, Murat and Sa’awah.
Iran’s „Conversion-into-Shia project“, being implemented in Deir Ezzour and Al Rakkah in eastern Syria, is intended to create a demographic status that facilitates any ideological, military and political activities that all come together for the fulfilment of the basic goal of economic domination. This project is the key to establishing the Persian Empire, that has been a dream for leaders of Iran and was first outlined by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The economic privileges granted to Iran in Syria can be easily traced to see how these privileges have reinforced its political domination of the country in case of military retreat under international pressure. Therefore, Iran has gained quick and beneficial investments like the third generation of mobile telecommunication services, strategic investment of phosphate in Khnaifees mines and a contract to construct an oil refinery near Homs with a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day.
Iran’s imperial dream and its obstacles
The road to Iran’s dream of a Persian Empire extending from Tehran to the Mediterranean is not paved with roses. This project finds itself in the middle of conflicts, open to many possibilities and deadlocks. The fulfilment of such a project needs material, geographical, demographic and political preconditions. This project attempts to utilize internal conflicts overwhelming the targeted areas. In case these conflicts are settled and national projects advance and national interests are prioritized, the Iranian dream will be liable to collapse.
There are regional and international powers that are working hard to abort the Iranian project, because these powers have got interests that contradict with the Iranian dream. The US for instance, closely monitor the developments of Iran activities both inside and outside Iran. In the end, the US know that Iran is working for its own interests and empire project on the ground in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
Israel, which has also been alerted and closely monitoring Iran’s tactics, considers Iran’s military and economic repositioning as a strategic threat to the existence of Israel. Consequently, Israeli red lines have been emphasized towards Iran’s military domination in Syria, but Israel is dealing with this project from its own perspectives and private agenda.
Israel has been working in a correlative manner with the Russian and American roles in Syria just to prevent any military stability for Iranian forces and its militias in Syria. Israeli leadership is quite sure that the Iranian intervention is not only intended to prevent the collapse of Assad’s regime, but also to achieve other goals including but not limited to preserving its militias and reinforce Syrian pro-Iranian militias that carry out the orders of Iran.
It can be asserted that Iran will not be able to preserve its influence in countries of the Middle East like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon without its long arm of the Shia Crescent. So, this fulfilment comes in the core of the Iranian strategy in the region. This helps us indicate to what extent Iran has gone with its venture of the missionary project together with the political, economic and security reflections, in case this project fails.
Creating a passage through to the Mediterranean comes on top of Iran priorities for a military balance with Israel and the preservation of its increasing geographical existence and political influence through Syria under the rule of Assad on the expense of its Sunni rivals, especially Saudi Arabia.
The obstacles that face the Iranian empire project in the region are too many. One of the most important obstacle is the public hostile attitude towards converting to Shia, which is the main concern for Iran in the Euphrates valley in Syria. Local communities in these areas strongly stand against the existence of Iran and its fervent attempts to impose conversion. Military operations against Iranians and their allies prove that Iran can not attain stability in this region. This abhorrent attitude is based on national visions of the Syrians who consider Iranians as invaders and settlers.
For these reasons, many efforts are made to sabotage the Iranian project despite the attitude of some individuals and minorities like Sheikh Nawaf Al Basheer of Al Bakara tribe. He was overthrown by his tribe because he had joined the Iranian project for his own personal interests.
On 27th of November 2017, French Le Figaro Journal wrote: “Al Bu Kamal is the last forte of the Shia’a Crescent that flourished following the nuclear deal that was made in 2015 that gave the impression that it had aimed to restore the Persian Empire.”
Future perspectives of conversion into Shia
Efforts to convert people to Shia made by Iran as a military and economic power dominating the Euphrates valley don’t have that influence over local communities. Local communities in the region look at the Iranian behavior as an attempt to split them from their social and religious identity. Although Iran has been trying to attract local communities through education, livelihood and health services, its efforts have no ground among civilians. Therefore, Iran has settled some Shia families to the area, benefiting from some ties between some of the locals and Iran’s project. However, this equation is connected with the nature of the conflict and its implications, and the regional and international powers. For example, Israel will never accept any Iranian military presence in Syria. So, the chance for Iran to continue its project is retreating and this foresees a devastating failure of its strategy.
Conversion to the Shia doctrine is one part of a larger Iranian project for economic and political domination of the region. This project is trying to survive in a hostile environment full of rival powers. There are hostile entities inside Iran, in the region and worldwide, and this refers to the possibility of collapse of sectarian conversion into Shia’a as the backbone of Iran strategy for dominating the Middle East.
The current phenomenon of Shia conversion in the Euphrates valley is connected with temporary objective and subjective conditions prevailing in the area as the political conflict has not ended yet. Some indicators show that the upper hand will not be Iranian, or Russian behind the scene. Instead, it could be an international deal for sharing dominance by main super powers that are involved in the conflict, and Iran will not be one of these super powers.
According to this vision, resistance to the Iranian project will increase and many entities will fight against conversion to deprive Iran from laying social foundations for its political project in Syria. This resistance requires new national strategies that consider Iran’s presence as an occupation force, and also consider any individual cooperating with Iran’s project to be a national enemy of the Syrians.
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