For the first time in more than a decade, an Iranian president has traveled to the civil war country of Syria. Ebrahim Raisi was received by ruler Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, according to Syrian and Iranian state media. The two countries maintain good relations, especially in the field of military cooperation. The head of government arrived accompanied by several ministers of state. Before Raisi, the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria in 2010.
Iran has been expanding its political and military ties in the region since the 1990s to create an "axis of resistance" against its nemesis Israel, with the support of Shiite militias. In Syria, the Islamic Republic supports Assad, who also traveled to Tehran last year. Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Syria's president has faced international criticism and has been isolated for a long time.
Shadow war between Israel and Iran intensifies
For years, the Islamic Republic and Israel have been fighting a shadow war in the region, which experts say has intensified in recent months. Israel's air force repeatedly attacks targets in neighboring Syria in order to stem the build-up of militias allied with Iran. The airport in Aleppo was not bombed again until Tuesday night.
Shortly before his trip, Raisi renewed his threats to Israel in an interview with the Lebanese television channel Al-Majadin. "The first mistake and step that Zionist unity makes will be its last, and there will be no more this thing called Zionist unity," Raisi said, adding, "Syria has always been at the forefront of the Axis of Resistance ." The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the trip.
Close to the border
On Friday, Iran's Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian traveled to southern Lebanon right on the border with the arch-enemy. Israel "only understands the language of violence," said the minister in an interview. Iranian politicians rarely come this close to the border. In Lebanon, too, Tehran exerts great influence with the support of the powerful Shia organization Hezbollah.
Raisi's visit follows Syria's rapprochement with several neighboring states and former rivals in the region in recent months. On Monday, the foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq met with their Syrian counterpart Faisal al-Mikdad. A possible return of Syria to the Arab League is much discussed.
In March 2011, numerous people took to the streets in Syria against Assad's leadership in the wake of the Arab uprisings. Its security forces used violence against the demonstrators. This resulted in a civil war with international participation, which continues to this day. In addition to Iran, Russia also supports Assad's rule.