The authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly is reporting that Syria has signed an agreement with Iran, pledging to hide Tehran's WMD and missiles, should it come under UN sanctions.
Citing diplomatic sources, Jane' s says that the strategic accord signed by Tehran and Damascus allows Iran to store weapons, sensitive equipment or even hazardous materials on Syria soil, in a time of crisis. Damascus also agreed to continue serving as a conduit for military hardware flowing from Iran to various terrorist groups, including Hizballah. In return, Iran has promised to provide a wide range of military hardware to Damascus, and upgrade Syrian chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. The agreement even allows Iran to operate "advanced weapons" on Syrian soil in times of crisis.
While details of the accord are surprising, the fact that Syria and Iran struck a deal is hardly earth-shattering. With expanding U.S. influence in the Middle East, both Tehran and Damascus find themselves increasingly isolated, with few other reliable partners in the region. Syria's willingness to accept Iranian WMD provides yet another option for deceiving western intelligence agencies and the UN, making it more difficult to track Tehran's nuclear efforts. Additionally, Damascus's willingness to continue funneling Iranian aid to Hizballah gives both nations leverage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From the Syrian point-of-view, Iranian aid comes at a time when Syria needs to modernize its military, but lacks the resources to do so. Iranian military technology is hardly advanced, but loans from Tehran could allow Syria to make needed upgrades in its air, air defense and ballistic missile forces. And, the potential presence of Iranian nukes on Syrian soil might provide a measure of deterrence--or (more likely) invite a preemptive Israeli strike.
While both sides probably view the agreement as a good deal, some of the provisions are unrealistic, even a bit silly. For example, how does Iran plan to get advanced weapons to Syria, let alone operate them near the Israeli border--I'm sure the Israeli Air Force would have something to say about that. But Damascus's apparent willingness to house Iranian WMD gives new credence to reports that some of Saddam's stocpiles also found a home there. The final chapter of Iraq's WMD program cannot be written until we find out what may be hiding in Syria.