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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Iran loses a staunch ally
Presidents Assad and Khamenei
Assad and Khamenei shared strategic interests
By Jim Muir in Tehran

The death of President Assad will be felt with particular concern in Iran, which has been Syria's strategic ally in the region for many years.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
The Iraqi leader was their common enemy

The two sides worked together against their mutual neighbour, Iraq, and co-operated to support the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, whose attacks drove the Israelis out of the south of the country.

Hafez al-Assad and the Iranians go back a long way.

Their relationship took on real meaning in the late 1970s when the rival wings of the pan-Arab Ba'ath Party, ruling in Syria and Iraq, fell out with one another.

My enemy's enemy

Iraq turned eastwards and attacked the newly established Islamic republic in Iran in 1980, initiating a war which was to last for eight years.

During that time, Syria supported the Iranians. It was rewarded with a flow of oil supplies and other forms of backing.
Hezbollah forces
Lebanon's Hezbollah enjoyed both countries' support
When Syria itself was threatened by Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Damascus and Tehran teamed up to drive out, first of all the Americans and other western forces who had intervened in the wake of that invasion, and ultimately, just over two weeks ago, the Israelis themselves.

This was achieved through their support for the guerrillas of Hezbollah, the radical Islamic movement inspired by Iran and drawn from Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim community.

Hezbollah was established and sustained by the Iranians, initially through their embassy in Damascus, but they could not have operated without Syrian co-operation.

Pragmatic partnership

In some ways Iran and Syria are odd bedfellows.

The Iranians are bitterly opposed to the very existence of Israel.

Syria is not. It is committed to peace with the Jewish state, but only if it can get back every square centimetre of the Golan Heights.

That difference has not turned out to be a significant problem in their relationship.

It is firmly based on mutual interest and shared strategic concerns which are likely to endure for the foreseeable future in the wake of Hafez al-Assad's death.

See also:

24 May 00 | Middle East
07 Feb 00 | Middle East
26 Feb 00 | Middle East
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