The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has recently released a report confirming that chlorine gas was used by the Assad regime in the attack on northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in early February. It was, of course, only one of several instances of the regime using chemical weapons against civilian populations. And it was not even the most recent such incident. The international community has been inconsistent in its response, but the United States recently took steps that could go a long way toward constraining Assad’s ability to carry on with these and other atrocities as he presses forward with the effort to stamp out all that remains of democratic resistance to his rule.
I am not referring to the Trump administration’s order of airstrikes in April. Despite the value of such interventions, they are insufficient on their own to address the roots of Assad’s ability to persistently suppress the basic rights of the Syrian people. Those roots lie not in Damascus but in Tehran, and so the US Treasury’s recent announcement of new sanctions on individuals and groups linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), may go further toward undermining Assad’s abuses than isolated airstrikes ever would.
We in the Syrian opposition have been urging this sort of action for a very long time. And to its credit, the Trump administration has been taking steps for a long time in the direction of conclusively hampering the IRGC’s influence over the region as a whole. Assuming that this trend continues with contributions from the nations of Europe as well, sanctions and other forms of international pressure can be expected to have a positive impact not only on the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian carnage by the Assad regime, but also on similar resolutions to wars and other forms of strife in Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, and so on.
As US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and countless other experts on Middle Eastern affairs have observed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has left its fingerprints on virtually every major crisis in the region. More specifically, the IRGC has been spearheading the Iranian imperialist project by recruiting, financing, and supplying a multitude of militant proxies modeled after the Hezbollah terrorist group. And wherever this proves inadequate at securing a permanent Iranian foothold and strengthening Tehran’s position against the Arab states and the West, the IRGC never hesitates to involve itself directly.
The new US sanctions, which include sanctions against the head of the Iranian central bank, clearly speaks to the necessity of weakening the financial underpinnings of the IRGC’s terrorist operations. This is a step in the right direction for Western policy, which has long refused to acknowledge the terrorist identity of the IRGC. Previously, the relevant US sanctions have been limited to the IRGC Quds Force, which is certainly the leading purveyor of Iran’s malign behaviors but cannot realistically be separated from the financial activities of its parent organizationHaitham al- Maleh
The new US sanctions, which include sanctions against the head of the Iranian central bank, clearly speaks to the necessity of weakening the financial underpinnings of the IRGC’s terrorist operations. This is a step in the right direction for Western policy, which has long refused to acknowledge the terrorist identity of the IRGC. Previously, the relevant US sanctions have been limited to the IRGC Quds Force, which is certainly the leading purveyor of Iran’s malign behaviors but cannot realistically be separated from the financial activities of its parent organization.
Although deeply unfortunate decisions regarding the Israeli embassy and the Palestine crisis demonstrate that the Trump administration is flawed in its understanding of Middle Eastern affairs in general, its consistently assertive approach to Iran policy has never been seriously in error. As regards this one area of the region, President Trump has been unusually resistant to the naivety and misplaced optimism that characterized many of his predecessors’ decisions. Notwithstanding mistakes elsewhere, the impact of this shift is potentially transformative, because what happens in Iran will have a ripple effect across the entire region, in particular in Syria.
I can only speak with particular clarity and detail about the effect that a financially weakened IRGC will have on Syria and its prospects for a democratic future. But when it comes to dealing with Tehran’s malign conduct, a united regional and international voice and action is needed. Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and Americans should all talk in one voice and show encore to Tehran's ayatollahs. One place that this will be evident is in Paris on June 30 in the Iran Freedom gathering, hosted by the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran led By Maryam Rajavi. The message will be clear: The west needs to support a tough policy on Iran and support the desire of the Iranians to bring about regime change in their country.
The leaders of France and the UK, among others, were already quick to join the US in launching strikes against chemical sites in Syria. They should be just as quick to undertake measures that will sever the lifeline that Tehran has been holding out to the Assad regime. It is only because of this foreign support that the regime has been able to hold onto power while suppressing the public will for freedom and democracy. The US should also remain focused on the malign conduct of the Iranian regime as the main source of havoc in the region and not to provide any excuses to the mullahs to justify their sinister conduct.
The Western hesitancy to thoroughly sanction the IRGC, has not only helped to keep the people of Syria in bondage, it has done so with the Iranians for nearly four decades. Correcting this longstanding mistake of Western policy will go a long way toward setting the entirety of the Middle East free.
Haitham al-Maleh is Chairman of the legal committee of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
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