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Yet if a U. This would be consistent with YPG cooperation with Iran and the Assad regime in pursuit of mutual interests during the first years of the war in Syria. Maps often identify Tehran as the starting point for any route associated with the land bridge. In practice, shipments would likely originate from wherever the regime produces and stores its materiel.

Geography and political factors are likely to govern where Iranian shipments cross into Iraq. The border between the two countries runs for just under 1, miles, so there are numerous options. Thus, Iran might prefer to employ crossings further south where sympathetic elements of the Iraqi government or even Iranian-backed Shiite militias exercise control. Once in Iraq, shipments along the northern route would make their way to the Rabia border crossing with Syria, which lies northwest of Mosul.

There are also informal tracks that cross the border into Syria from northern Iraq. However, Kurdish forces aligned with the U. As with the northern route, the choice of border crossings from Iran into Iraq is likely to reflect a combination of geography and politics.

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From Baghdad, the upper southern route follows the Euphrates River northwest through Anbar province to the border town of al-Qaim. Anbar is the most uniformly Sunni region of Iraq, where both the anti-U. However, Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, now has a strong presence near the border, including along roads in and out of al-Qaim. Across the border from al-Qaim is the Syrian town of Albu Kamal. As noted above, pro-regime forces took control of the town in November The official border crossing has not yet re-opened, yet Israeli reports suggest that Shiite militias are using dirt bypass roads built by the Islamic State.

An unnamed Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal that the purpose of the strikes was to show Iran that Israel would not tolerate a land bridge. While the Islamic State no longer controls territory in eastern Syria, there have been recent attacks near Albu Kamal.

In early February, Russian jets conducted air strikes against Islamic State targets after an attack on pro-regime forces in the vicinity. Another risk associated with Albu Kamal is the proximity of U. In , the coalition launched more than strikes on Islamic State targets in the vicinity of Albu Kamal.

The T4 air base, from which Iran launched an armed drone into Israel in , lies about miles west of Albu Kamal, across open desert. Graphic: The U. Source: Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The lower branch of the southern route traces the shortest path from Baghdad to Damascus, although it runs directly through al-Tanf, the strategic town held by U.

From Iran to Baghdad, the lower branch is the same as the upper one. Then, about 75 miles west of Baghdad, the lower branch splits off and heads westward through the desert to the Syrian border. Adversaries have continually tested the readiness of the U. In June , the Pentagon criticized Russia for air strikes nearby that endangered U.

Assad and Putin also sought to dislodge the U. By blaming the U. The camp has a population of 40,, refugees who depend entirely on humanitarian aid.

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Russia and Assad stonewalled UN requests to deliver aid throughout while the Russians insisted that a U. A UN official said there is no doctor in the camp and multiple children have died from the cold. Past al-Tanf, there are no major impediments to the land bridge. Shipments could follow Syrian highways for miles directly to Damascus.

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Trump has pursued a policy of challenging Iran, reflected in his withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear deal and reinstatement of comprehensive sanctions. Iran prefers to employ asymmetric approaches that magnify its political and ideological advantages while neutralizing the superior wealth and conventional forces of the U.

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This preference has led to an emphasis on ballistic missiles, a nuclear weapons program, and the patient cultivation of foreign proxies. The land bridge helps to operationalize those relationships; it is one supporting element, not the centerpiece of Iranian strategy.

Iran and the International Community (RLE Iran D)

Thus, the U. This applies both to the land bridge and to the strategic significance of northeast Syria more broadly. It will not have the resources to do both. Northeast Syria also has valuable agricultural land, natural gas, and hydroelectric resources. Similarly, a full U. An American withdrawal would also damage — perhaps irreparably — the close U.

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In exchange for protection, Assad and Tehran would likely insist on freedom of movement within northeast Syria, among other things. Disrupting the land bridge must be part of a broader effort to counter Iranian influence across the region, elements of which are already in place. In the absence of sufficient pushback, Iran will continue to escalate, gradually increasing the risk of a major conflagration. The authorized mission of U. However, U.

For example, when Shiite militias and Iranian drones entered the exclusion zone around al-Tanf, this authority enabled the U. Thus, after reiterating that countering Iran is not the mission of U. Not all lawmakers appreciate this. For over a decade, Congress has proven incapable of updating and revising its authorization for counterterrorist missions, despite a firm consensus that it has become outdated. The recommendations below focus on disrupting the land bridge and integrating that objective into a coherent regional strategy.

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David Adesnik Director of Research. LTG Ret. Behnam Ben Taleblu Senior Fellow. Strategy Policy Recommendations Conclusion Download. The land bridge has the potential to accelerate sharply the shipment of weapons to southern Lebanon and the Golan front in Syria. Iran has already opened one of the three primary routes from its own borders to the Mediterranean by retaking the key Syrian border town of Albu Kamal 1 in November There are reports Iran has already begun to ship weapons through the town.

Iranian officials and proxy forces rarely mention the land bridge. In addition, U. Disrupting the land bridge should be a key U. Iranian Strategy and the Land Bridge Less than three years ago, references to an Iranian land bridge were infrequent. Debating the Land Bridge Is the construction of the land bridge an epochal event or merely a footnote to the year struggle between Iran and its adversaries?

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Moving Weapons A land bridge would have substantial utility as a means of shipping weapons, such as light arms or shorter-range rockets and missiles. Moving Supplies Iran certainly has had some success with seaborne transport of supplies other than weapons. Operationalizing the Land Bridge: Routes and Impediments Is the land bridge merely an aspiration, or is it already an operational supply route?