Syrians have been suffering from a bloody civil war that started with Bashar al-Assad and deteriorated due to the Iranian regime’s meddling. Had it not been for the billions funneled by Iran’s dictator and Assad’s mentor, Ali Khamenei, the war would have stopped a long time ago.
These days again, people’s hearts around the world go out to children in Eastern Ghouta. According to some estimates, over a 1,000 people have lost their lives in the most recent drive by Assad forces to capture that area.
What does it have to do Iran? A lot really. Since day one of the Syria civil war, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) first fearing the world’s reaction claimed that it has been invited by the “legitimate” Syrian government to play an advisory role on the fronts.
Its true intentions were, however, revealed gradually when it could no longer camouflage its presence. Recently the Iranian regime confirmed that over 2500 of its forces have been killed in Syria. That number obviously does not include IRGC’s proxy fatalities such as that of Lebanese Hezbollah’s.
Often high- ranking members of IRGC arrive home in body bags from Syria. In addition, recruits from other countries are being dispatched to Syria by the thousands. They have been given “religious” names such as Liwa Fatemiyoun, (Fatemiyoun Division) and Zeinabiyoun). The Syrian opposition estimates that there are anywhere from 70,000 to 90,000 armed militiamen fighting under IRGC and Quds Force command.
General McMaster said that “Iran has provided over $16 billion to the Assad regime and to other proxies in Syria Iraq and Yemen.” (Reuters)
In the face of such grim prospect of the war in Syria, there is good news that US is tacking the matter seriously. US National Security Adviser, HR McMaster on the 7th anniversary of Syrian war talked tough on Iranian regime. He committed the US to hold the parties involved in the war including Iran accountable.
McMaster said that it is time to impose serious political and economic consequences on Tehran and that the international community should counter its destabilizing behavior in the region. “Iran’s goal is to secure a permanent military foothold in Syria which would threaten Israel, undermine US interests and strengthen its proxy forces that it uses to weaken Arab states and foment violence,” he said.
Since 2012, General McMaster said that “Iran has provided over $16 billion to the Assad regime and to other proxies in Syria Iraq and Yemen.” US officials estimated that in 2017, “80 percent of Assad fighting force is Iranian sourced.” There are also conservative estimates that the theoretic regime in Tehran has spent over 100 billion dollars in the past seven years to prop up the Assad regime.
The theocratic regime in Iran strategically needs to have more than an ally government in Iraq to complete its plan of having its corridor open all the way from Iran through Iraq and ultimately Syria and Lebanon. Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis confirmed that Tehran is after meddling in Iraq’s upcoming elections. He said: “We have worrisome evidence that Iran is trying to influence — using money — the Iraqi elections.”
“That money is being used,” he said, “to sway candidates, to sway votes — not an insignificant amount of money, we believe, and it’s highly unhelpful.” “We know that they are doing what they can to impact the elections, and we don’t like it.”
Despite what the Iranian regime claims neither Assad regime nor any other proxies operating for the regime in the region – from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Houthis in Yemen – are not charity cases for Iran’s rulers. Such support only serves one purpose, to keep the regime in Iran afloat.
Khamenei himself said last year: “If the malevolent and seditionists, all brewed by the enmity of America and the Zionists, were not stopped [in Syria], we would have been forced to stop them in Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan. They quelled the enemy.”
People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)
Uprisings in Iran
What tip the balance were the protests and uprisings of 2017-2018 in Iran. They rocked the nation for days and still continue shaking it. They were on such magnitude that no outside help and damper – war in Syrian included – would be able to stop them. Citizens far from Tehran stood up for their rights.
More than 140 cities and towns were involved and the regime’s crackdown was unprecedented too. Over 8,000 people, mostly youths under 35, were arrested. The figures are not accurate but around 50 were killed by the IRGC forces.
What is a fairly new trick up the regime’s sleeves is killing of the prisoners while in its custody and claiming them committing “suicide.” At least 13 detainees were murdered in Iran’s prisons with the same claim during last three months. The last one was a few days ago. If the world is serious in dealing with the Syrian war it necessarily has to go through dealing with the regime in Iran at the same time.
Positive steps have been taken in the US in that direction. A few days ago a strong sanction bill 4744 – one of many since President Trump took office last year – passed in the US House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee. It is very significant now since it has coincided with Iran’s protests.
It is targeting Iran’s human rights record. If passed in the House and Senate and the White House, it can add the needed teeth to put a short leash on Iran’s human rights violators; offering some breathing space for Iranian citizens. The bill specifically calls for an independent investigation into the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the late 80s, among other restricting measures.
Had the international community looked into the executions of 1988, it would have been impossible for the Iranian regime to have an open hand in committing such horrifying crimes as public hangings. It would have been hard to justifying juvenile executions.
There is a way to resolve the conflict in Syria and that is act tough with the regime in Tehran and by first evicting the IRGC from the region and pushing it as far back as behind the Iranian borders. Once this happens, the Iranian people would know how to deal with it and it would be a win-win situation for all.
Reza Shafiee is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). He tweets @shafiee_shafiee.