In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the administration of President Donald Trump is currently “reviewing ways to confront challenges posed by Iran.” This most likely means looking for ways in which to curb Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East. But for any containment plan to be effective, Washington must examine Iran’s newly emerging strategy in the Levant and must understand that although Tehran still hopes to achieve regional hegemony in the long term, its current plan is to focus on obtaining and maintaining a predominant position in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The bloody quagmire involving those three countries offers more opportunities to consolidate power than what would surely be a riskier confrontation in the Gulf, where Iran would have to contend with the United States and its allies. Success in the narrower approach, moreover, could ultimately strengthen Tehran’s hand against Saudi Arabia and those in the Sunni bloc.
General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force division within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is one of those in charge of executing the new policy vision. For the last three years, he has been kept busy setting up the building blocks for at least one, but more likely two, land corridors across the Levant (one in the north and one in the south), linking Iran to the Mediterranean. These pathways would traverse a distance of at least 800 miles from Iran’s western borders through the Euphrates and Tigris valleys and the vast expanses of desert in Iraq and Syria, providing a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and finally ending at the edge of the Golan Heights. The two corridors would serve as chains to move military supplies or militiamen when needed. Lately, a number of Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias have mentioned in public their efforts to move their fighters along these routes. Forces from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, for example, are present in Syria and in Iraq, while key Iraqi Shiite