According to undisclosed sources within the Syrian Ministry of Transport, a private partner, whose identity remains unknown, is set to hold a 49% stake in Damascus International Airport. This revelation has raised concerns among pro-regime economists who view it as an unusual and potentially misleading move.
Normally, such leaks would be expected to appear in Al-Watan newspaper, a privately-owned newspaper known for its close ties to the regime. However, the fact that an official newspaper like Al-Baath, which serves as the regime’s mouthpiece, obtained sensitive information about a critical infrastructure project like Damascus airport through media leaks is quite perplexing.
The leakers seem to be contemplating the future of the airport’s investment scheme with specific parties. The leak appears to target external parties who have a vested interest in the fate of the airport, which, for the past three years, has increasingly resembled an Iranian military base.
Recent reports of Iranian pressure to recover debts from the Assad regime, coupled with the potential involvement of an Iranian company as the undisclosed partner, have led analysts to speculate about the possibility of an actual Iranian takeover of the airport. This scenario would involve an investment contract with a front company affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, similar to what happened with the third cellular operator, “Wafa Telecom.”
Israel still strongly opposes any increase in Iranian influence over Syrian airports and seaports. In the past, Israeli forces have bombed Damascus airport multiple times, resulting in its temporary closure. In June 2022, following one such bombing, Israeli officials conveyed a message to the Assad regime through Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, warning that the regime’s compliance with Iranian plans and facilitation of weapons transfers to Hezbollah and Iranian militias would come at a high cost.
Similar threats were made regarding the port of Lattakia when Iran sought to legitimize its control over it. Granting the investment of Damascus airport to an Iranian company would undoubtedly increase the airport’s vulnerability to Israeli airstrikes and disrupt its civilian operations.
Additionally, Western sanctions imposed on the official aviation corporation, which represents the public sector in the airport partnership according to the Baath report, hinder any external party from participating in such an investment. These sanctions exacerbate the airport’s existing challenges, which are primarily caused by the restrictions. If the undisclosed partner happens to be Iranian, this partnership would likely face even more severe penalties.
Therefore, an Iranian investment in Damascus airport does not appear to be the best solution for the regime to recover its debts, considering the Iranian interest. Nor does it offer a viable path to alleviate the suffocating conditions faced by the Syrian civil aviation sector and enhance the airport’s operations, as claimed by the Baath report, from the perspective of the Syrian state.
The leak from Baath resembles an invitation for an international tender, outlining the expected submissions from potential “exhibitors.” It hints at the presence of an unidentified external partner capable of overcoming the obstacles imposed by Western sanctions and revitalizing the Syrian civil aviation sector through the main gateway of Syria’s largest airport. Alternatively, Iran, which already maintains a strong security presence and military proximity to the airport, might become its official investor.
It seems that this solicitation of offers, presented through a newspaper aligned with the regime, targets Gulf countries that view investing in Syria as a means to counter Iranian influence. If successful, it could serve as a cover for intensified Iranian security activities centred around Syria’s major air facilities, potentially shielding them from Israeli airstrikes. However, if this ploy fails to yield any results, it remains a mere hint from the Assad regime regarding the “Iranian” airport in Damascus, potentially used as a form of blackmail against neighbouring countries, similar to how daily shipments of Captagon are used.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.