Iran Repairs Syria’s Old Deir ez-Zour-Palmyra Road as a Strategic Expansion Tool

Tehran continues to capitalize on its success in forging an overland corridor from Iran to Syria. On Sunday, Dec. 17, an Iranian military convoy crossing into Syria through Iraq inaugurated the direct strategic road link between Tehran and Damascus.

The convoy of 20 unmarked four-wheel drive vehicles and civilian trucks crossed in from Iraq at the Tel al-Badi crossing and drove towards the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zour. A senior Iraqi official said: “The cars, which crossed checkpoints manned by the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, were transporting Iranian and Iraqi forces to fight alongside the Assad regime.”

Another Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, let the cat out of the bag. “I believe this could signal the activation of the long-planned Tehran-Damascus land bridge.” He added that the forces in the trucks were Iranian military advisers and commanders from the Iraqi Shiite Hezballah Brigades and Hezballah al-Nujan.

However, according to DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, the Iranian trucks were not carrying Iranian and Iraqi fighters, but civilian workmen employed by an Iranian engineering firm that won the bid for the project of repairing and resurfacing the road linking Deir ez-Zour to Palmyra in central Syria. Most of its 205 kilometers were destroyed in the four months of fierce battle fought by Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces to wrest it form ISIS’ grip.

According to our intelligence sources, the new road will be as narrow as the old one – just two lanes – but enough for a smooth, fast drive from the Syrian-Iraqi border to central Syria. The latest convoy continued to make history by consummating Tehran’s coveted goal to open an overland bridge via Iraq into Syria and on to Mediterranean shores. It was also a test to discover the potential for military resistance against this tangible marker of Iran’s permanent presence in Syria.

But although US, Israeli and Jordanian intelligence tracked the convoy’s progress, none opted for counteraction such as an air strike. In recent weeks, Iran established a new office for operating the land bridge. It was set up alongside the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani’s war room in Abu Kamal, and has already escorted several passenger convoys along sections of the new route. Some came from Iraq and drove through the section between Deir ez-Zour and Damascus, a distance of 240km, while others traveled the 116 kilometers from Damascus to Beirut. Most of the convoys had 15 to 20 military trucks and were draped in heavy tarpaulin to pretend they were ferrying military supplies or troops, whereas they were really empty and sent out on the road solely to probe American or Israeli reactions.

The convoy’s run to Palmyra on Sunday indicated that the Iranians were setting up two land corridors for use in Syria, the northern route cutting through from Deir ez-Zour to Palmyra and the southern link from Deir ez-Zour to Damascus. The former was being restored as a narrow, two-lane road to provide an alternative route should the main route be put out of action by an air attack.

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