Congressmen: U.S. Ceding Syria to Iran, Causing Rift With Israel

Lawmakers urge Trump admin for strategy to remove Iranian presence from Syria

Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights / Getty Images
November 14, 2017

A large, bipartisan delegation of lawmakers warned the Trump administration on Tuesday that its regional policies are laying the groundwork for Iran to takeover Syria, according to a letter sent to the State Department that urged the administration to present Congress with a plan for combating the Islamic Republic's foothold in the war torn country.

Nearly 50 members of Congress who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Syria is falling into Iran's hands, a situation that has caused anxiety among Israeli leaders, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The two-page letter includes intelligence that Iran is using Syria to establish weapons factories that arm the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. If the United States does not take immediate action to combat Iran’s presence in Syria it is likely to establish a permanent military foothold in the country, which would endanger U.S. troops and allies such as Israel.

The letter comes as many in Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun to express concerns about what they say is the Trump administration's failure to effectively combat Iran's growing military foothold across the Middle East, including in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

The situation has become so pressing that Congress is requesting the Trump administration present it with a concrete plan to combat Iran's growing military foothold in Syria, according to the latest letter.

"Should Iran be allowed to maintain a permanent military presence in Syria, it would pose a significant threat to Israel, Jordan, and United States interests," the delegation of more than 40 lawmakers wrote. "A permanent Iranian presence in Syria would connect Lebanon-based Hezbollah to Iran via Iraq and Syria. This would give Iran the ability to project power from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea."

"Any agreement or policy that allows Iran to station forces on or near Israel and Jordan's border does not serve U.S. interests," the letter stated.

As a result of the situation, the lawmakers are requesting the Trump administration's State Department offer a formal plan to combat Iran's military presence in Syria.

"We urge you to come to Congress with a strategy for Syria that includes how the United States plans to prevent Iran from gaining a permanent foothold on Israel and Jordan’s doorstep and to block Iranian arms exports to Hezbollah," they wrote.

Rep. Brian Mast (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the letter's authors, told the Washington Free Beacon that Israeli leaders expressed concerns about Iran’s operations in Syria during recent meetings.

"After my time in the Army, I volunteered to serve alongside the IDF because Israel and the United States stand for the same values: freedom, democracy and mutual respect for all people," Mast said. "During my last trip to Israel, I heard directly from Israeli military leaders about Iranian operations in Syria."

"The United States urgently needs a strategy for Syria that includes plans to prevent Iran from encroaching on Israel and Jordan, as well as blocking Iranian arms exports to Hezbollah," Mast said.

Other congressional leaders who signed the letter include Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), and a contingent of foreign policy leaders in the House.

The lawmakers say they are aware of evidence that Iran has deployed to Syria anywhere from 1,300 to 1,800 of its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps fighters.

This marks "a significant departure from a historical policy of keeping regular army forces within Iran’s borders," according to the lawmakers.

Iran also has directed Hezbollah forces and other militia fighters to battle on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the lawmakers said.

The war in Syria has provided Iranian-backed forces with "extensive know-how in offensive operations" and boosted coordination between the Islamic Republic and Russian air force, the lawmakers warn.

"As the tactical experience of its fighters has grown, so has its weapons stockpile," they wrote. "Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets and missiles is larger than that of most states and could pose a grave military threat to Israel."

There have been additional reports that Iran is building weapons factories in Syria to produce precision guided missiles for Hezbollah.