Last week, Tehran undermined a Russian-Turkish deal to allow residents of Aleppo to flee the ruins of their city, so that it could use them as leverage in its plans to create a swath of Syria—stretching from Damascus to the Lebanese border—that will be free of Sunnis. Michael Chulov explains:
Aleppo is a crossroads in Iran’s project to build a land corridor to the Mediterranean coast. It is also likely to be a new center of Tehran’s geopolitical projection, which has been on open display elsewhere in the conflict.
Iranian officials have directly negotiated with the opposition militia, Ahrar al-Sham, about the fate of the battered opposition-held town of Zabadani, west of Damascus. Iran proposed a swap of the town’s Sunnis, who would be sent to Idlib province, for the residents of [the Shiite villages of] Fua and Kefraya, [located north of Aleppo], who would in turn be relocated to Zabadani. . . .
In the Damascus suburb of Darayya, where opposition communities surrendered in August and accepted being flown to Idlib, 300 Shiite families from Iraq have moved in. Further to the west, near the Zainab shrine, Iran has bought substantial numbers of properties, and also sponsored the arrival of Shiite families, securing the area as a bridgehead before Zabadani.
Securing corridors of influence with Shiite communities marks, potentially, Iran’s most assertive moment since the Islamic revolution of 1979, after which Tehran’s proxies have gradually projected its influence, through Hizballah, through [its allies in Iraq], and now through the chaos of Syria.