Experts expressed their concerns about Iranian influence in Syria in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. Dr. Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, wrote in her submitted testimony, “The gains made by the Assad regime (with Russian and Iranian help) over the past eight months enhance the disturbing prospect of a Syrian government remaining in power in Damascus that is dependent on Iranian funding, Iranian military support, and the importation of Iranian-backed militias…Iran is deeply committed to the survival of its Alawi client and the maintenance of Syria as a channel for Iranian support to Hizballah.” Any result that institutionalizes Iranian dominance in the region, Wittes continued, strengthens Hezbollah and would “likely spell an escalation in Iranian weapons transfers to Hizballah” and “could increase Hizballah’s capacity to wage asymmetric war against Israel, at great cost to Israel’s civilian population.”
Another witness appearing before the committee was Robert S. Ford., a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and the former U.S. Ambassador to Syria. Ford said during the hearing that he was “a little puzzled that there seem to be efforts by the administration to promote business with Iran in Europe when Iran is causing us problems in regions such as Syria.” With regard to Iran’s interests in Syria, Ford stated, “We need to be clear about what Iran’s interested in in Syria…and that is they want a government in Damascus that has good relations with Hezbollah and will give Hezbollah sustained strategic depth in its confrontation against Israel. That is the Iranian goal, and that goal is at great odds with American policy.”
Hezbollah is responsible for killing more Americans than any terrorist group other than Al Qaeda. Iran has enabled the Assad regime to continue its ruthless assault against Syrian civilians. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the head of the Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, and the operations training commander for the Quds Force, Mohsen Chizari, in May 2011 “for their role in ‘the violent repression against the Syrian people.'” In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Assad regime for war crimes. The resolution stated that “the vast majority of the civilians who have died in the Syrian conflict have been killed by the Government of Syria led by President Bashar al-Assad and its allies, specifically the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Iran’s terrorist proxies including Hezbollah.” The legislation catalogued crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime. The resolution stated that the regime has "engaged in widespread torture and rape, employed starvation as a weapon of war, and massacred civilians, including through the use of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and barrel bombs.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s recent push for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, saying in a statement Tuesday that Israel is “ready to participate” in efforts to advance diplomacy.
“I welcome Egyptian President El-Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians and the peoples of the region,” Netanyahu stated. “Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President El-Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue.”
Sisi said in a live televised speech Tuesday that there was a “real opportunity” for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. He called on the parties to take lessons from the “real and stable peace” between Israel and Egypt.
The Egyptian president noted that there were many possible paths to take: “There is an Arab initiative, there is currently a French initiative, and there are American efforts” to broker a settlement, he said. Israel has expressed skepticism toward the multilateral French effort, since it will be outside of the framework of direct negotiations, which were established by the Oslo Accords as the key to achieving peace. Sisi made a similarcall for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians last September.
Ties between Israel and Egypt have improved since Sisi came to power in 2013. Both nations have shared interests in fighting ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel has allowed the Egyptian army to technically break their peace treaty by operating in the eastern and northern parts of Sinai against ISIS. Israel also helped Egypt locate a Russian airliner that had crashed in the Sinai last year. This January, Egypt returned an ambassador to Israel, a move that Netanyah said would “further strengthen relations with this important and key Arab country.” When Egyptagreed last month to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, it obtained a guarantee that the Saudis would respect Israel’s right of passage through the area.