Tehran-Damascus road 'launched' as Iranian military convoy enters Syria
An Iranian military convoy has crossed into Syria through Iraq, possibly marking the launch of the long-planned road link between Tehran and Damascus, Iraqi officials and members of the military have told The New Arab.
Military sources stationed in the border town of al-Baaj said that the convoy carrying troops from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary crossed into Syria this week.
The four-wheel drive vehicles and civilian trucks crossed the Tell al-Badi crossing point, heading towards the Syrian province of Deir az-Zour, where the Islamic State group is defending the last specks of land that used to be part of their self-declared "caliphate", the sources said.
"A convoy of 20 mud-covered, unmarked vehicles crossed into Syria after being let through checkpoints manned by the Hashd al-Shaabi," a senior Iraqi official said.
"The cars were transporting Iranian and Iraqi forces to fight alongside the [Bashar al-] Assad regime. I believe this could signal the activation of the long-planned Tehran-Damascus road," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
He added that the forces included Iranian military advisors and commanders from the Iraqi Hizballah Brigades and Hizballah al-Nujaba forces.
It is unclear if the deployment was the first time Iran has used the corridor from its border, through Iraq and all the way to the Mediterranean, to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The route - which provides Tehran unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon - was secured this summer.
The land route is the biggest prize yet for Iran in its involvement in Syria's six-year civil war.
It facilitates movement of Iranian-backed fighters between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as well as the flow of weapons to Damascus and Lebanon's Hizballah, Iran's main proxy group.
It also positions Iran to play a prime and lucrative role in what is expected to be a massive rebuilding effort in both Iraq and Syria, which have been devastated in their ongoing wars.
Over the course of Syria's civil war, thousands of Iranian troops and Iran-backed militias - such as the Lebanese Shia paramilitary group Hizballah - have been deployed to Syria, helping to prop up, and turn the tides of the conflict in the favour of Damascus.
The situation has caused concern in Israeli with air strikes launched on Hizballah weapons supplies, military bases and commanders deep inside Syria.
Israel has said it would not allow Iran to build permanent military presence in Syria.