Iran’s catch 22: Syria and the Aleppo offensive

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The number of Iranian troops in Syria is more than 70,000 and some estimate that it’s over 140,000. These troops are made up of Iranian forces and of militias which Iran brought from across the region and it’s been paying their costs. They have been fighting for several months to control Aleppo and they’re finally about to achieve this aim by destroying the steadfast city’s east and they are advancing, thanks to Russian shelling which targets civilians. The Assad regime’s air force has been tasked with using chemical weapons and chlorine gas to empty areas before advancing and occupying them. I am not denying the possibility of Aleppo’s fall or the impossibility of expelling ISIS from Raqqah but my aim is to clarify reality and facts against all this propaganda in Syria as the war there is deeper and much more complicated.

Even if the Iranians and the Assad troops seize eastern Aleppo, Syria will not stabilize and the regime, which has been fighting for five years now, will not settle because it would still need years to impose its existence and this is quite doubted. This makes us wonder about the point of the practices of Assad’s allies, i.e. Iran and Russia. Do they intend to continue supporting the regime on the ground for years in this same momentum and with all these losses just to keep the regime in power? Do they prefer to resume war for more years over achieving a political solution in which all parties make concessions and a hybrid regime, of the old regime and of the opposition but without the regime’s current command, is formed?

For instance, if Iran and Russia seize eastern Aleppo, which is destroyed as a result of the mad shelling that has emptied it of most of its residents, what do they plan to do later? Do they intend to spend 2017 fighting to seize the rest of Syria’s towns, including Damascus’ countryside, parts of which remain under rebel control?

How will the Syrian regime govern a torn country full of people pursuing vendettas against it, while its forces do not constitute 30 percent of current troops as the others are made of Iranian forces and militias brought from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries? Does Iran plan to keep foreign and sectarian militias in Syria for upcoming years to solidify Assad’s governance? It’s certain that the presence of sectarian militias there will attract more fighters from across the region and the world - and the war will go on. This is the problem which the Iranian regime must have recently realized: if it wins and exits Syria, the regime in Damascus will fall and if it maintains its military presence there, the war will go on with all its costs and domestic threats against it.

The Iranians are more aware than the Russians that they are involved in this failed war, which even if they win its current battles, will go on and eventually force them to accept what they oppose and what they are fighting against, a political solution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Why do the invaders exaggerate while celebrating across Aleppo these days and make it seem like it marks the end of the war? It’s because they need to lift their morale inside their countries, Iran and Russia and the same goes for the Lebanese wing of Hezbollah, the Iraqi League of the Righteous and others. This propaganda is directed towards their own people and towards the world which has been looking at how this struggle will unfold. They’ve been incapable of winning despite the massive arsenal they possess while fighting opposition forces that are denied access to advanced weapons.

The Iranians are more aware than the Russians that they are involved in this failed war, which even if they win its current battles, will go on and eventually force them to accept what they oppose and what they are fighting against, a political solution. Their Russian allies, who view fighting in Syria from the perspective of an international struggle, will find nothing wrong with withdrawing all of a sudden, just like they entered Syria all of a sudden; thus without paying attention to how this will affect Damascus and Tehran.

The current Iranian policy in the region seems different from the past. This policy, which has been previously known for having a long-term strategy, seems to be interested in making quick gains. We can see this through Iranian insistence to engage in the fighting in the region, in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, although there’s nothing that guarantees that it, i.e. Iran, will achieve victory in the end. The fighting will go on in Syria and peace will not reign in Iraq because Iran adopts the project of sectarian powers. Meanwhile, the Houthis, which are supported by Iran in Yemen, are smaller than a party capable of achieving victory although they are capable of stirring chaos.

The other countries in the region may keep silent over defeat in Aleppo but they know well that the Syrian swamp is deep and Iran will only get out of it after paying a high price.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 12, 2016.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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