Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis:
We write to express our strong concern regarding Iranian attempts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. As the United States Government continues its comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards Iran, we urge you to work diligently to prevent this scenario, which would pose a grave security threat to the United States, Israel, our Arab partners, and undermine regional stability.
We are supportive of actions taken to advance U.S. interests in the Middle East, including efforts to degrade and destroy the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, bring an end to the Syrian Civil War, and combat Iranian aggression. As you review future U.S. policy towards Iran, it is imperative to develop and implement policies to prevent a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria.
In a recent address, Secretary Tillerson stated, "Iran continues to support the brutal Assad regime in Syria, prolonging a conflict that has killed approximately half a million Syrians and displaced millions more .It has also sent members of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard to take part in direct combat operations." In addition, in its efforts to bolster Hezbollah and the Assad Regime, Iran is actively working to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. The Islamic Republic seeks to solidify its access to the Mediterranean Sea by building a permanent seaport and constructing numerous military installations throughout the country. A permanent Iranian military presence in Syria would greatly harm U.S. interests in the region and decrease the likelihood of reaching a political agreement to end the Syrian civil war.
Just recently, Iran held a military parade during its National Army Day and unveiled its most recent missile system, displayed with a large "Death to Israel" sign. This hostile demonstration follows numerous aggressive Iranian actions demonstrating its determination to harm the United States and our allies, including Iran's recent hostilities against U.S. naval ships, illegal ballistic missile tests, and continuous support for Hamas and Hezbollah in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.
A permanent Iranian military base in Syria, potentially near the border with Israel or Jordan, would increase Iran's operational capacity to inflict serious damage against two of our closest allies in the region. Israel has already been forced to take action to stop Iran's proxy Hezbollah from gaining a foothold on the Golan Heights and to prevent the transfer of highly advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.
There remain tangible steps the United States can take to disrupt Iranian efforts to establish a permanent presence in Syria and halt shipments of personnel and military supplies to the country. For example, Iran's use of commercial aircraft to transport troops, weapons, and other resources to Syria is well documented. Iran's commercial aviation sector, led by the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, is dominated by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and paramount to Iran's Syria supply operation.
The United States should look carefully at Iran's commercial aviation sector and hold accountable those entities found to be providing support to the Assad regime or terrorist organizations. Additionally, even as we continue to vigorously enforce the terms of the Iran nuclear deal while the National Security Council conducts an "interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)," we must strengthen sanctions targeting Iran's support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile program, all of which fall outside the scope of the nuclear agreement.
We look forward to working with you closely in advancing U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world.
PETER J. ROSKAM THEODORE E. DEUTCH
Member of Congress Member of Congress