It's a neocon nightmare come true: for the first time in modern history Iran is set establish a Mediterranean port on the Syrian coast.
In a breaking exclusive, Asia Times reports that Iran has leased a section of the port of Latakia, on the northwest Syrian coast in close vicinity to the Russian Navy, which will end the Kremlin's exclusive foreign presence on the coastal district. The Asia Times report provides the following details:
...from next October the Russians will no longer have the neighborhood to themselves – as Iran has leased parts of the port of Latakia...
The Syrian move comes in response to an official Iranian request, presented to Damascus last February. Realizing that they were unable to establish a permanent military presence like that of the Russians, or to illegally grab territory like the Turks, the Iranians settled for long-term economic influence in Syria in order to maintain a foothold in a crucial part of the region.
Both counties are currently under crippling US sanctions, with Washington recently announcing that it would seek to enforce a total ban on all Iranian and Syrian oil shipping activity, even in international waters.
Iran, as a longtime ally of Syria's Assad, has given front line assistance to the Syrian army and allied militias like Hezbollah since near the start of the war that engulfed the country which began in 2011 and exploded into nation-wide fighting and chaos by 2012.
Tehran has consistently helped Damascus weather the storm of both the externally fueled regime change war and collapsed economy that followed in its wake.
The Iranian lease of the port of Latakia is set to take effect next October, according to the Asia Times.
The Asia Times report continues:
Iran gave the Syrians a line of credit totaling $6.6 billion since 2011, and that was topped up with an additional $1 billion in 2017. However, over the past three months, relations between the two countries have become even warmer, especially after President Bashar al-Assad landed in Tehran in February to meet with President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Meanwhile, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia — on the other side of the proxy war — have long feared the so-called "Shia land bridge" connecting Tehran with pro-Shia forces from neighboring Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut.
An Iranian port on the Syrian coastline would bring this scenario to ultimate fulfillment, perhaps beyond what Washington defense planners had ever imagined in the first place.
And likely worrisome for Moscow concerning its operational security in the region, this will also put Iranian personnel noticeably close to Russian installations, specifically very near to Russia's Hmeimim air base, which has been hit by sporadic al-Qaeda and rebel drone attacks over the past two years.
Crucially, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long made noise over just this scenario. In May of 2018 while on a state visit to Cyprus, Netanyahu warned that Iran hopes to build naval bases in the Mediterranean.
The Israeli PM said at the time, according to the Jerusalem Post:
Iran hopes to set up a naval base on the Mediterranean Sea for its warships and submarines that would pose a “palpable threat” to everyone, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in Nicosia.
As apparently this Israeli greatest fear now looks to become reality, this will likely spur Israel to even greater military aggression inside Syria, after a few months of relative calm.
Iran will likely point out the exclusively civilian and peaceful nature of its new Mediterranean port; however as Asia Times comments: "The Latakia port agreement gives the Islamic Republic the right to use a Syrian harbor with 23 warehouses for economic purposes only, but once in control of the premises, nothing prevents them from transforming it into a military facility."
And ultimately, "A foothold in Latakia fulfills a decades-long Iranian dream of having direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, from where it can ship goods, arms — and political influence — to the rest of the world," according to the report.
All of this no doubt means things are about to turn hot once again in the Levant between Israel, Syria and Iran.