ANALYSIS: The ball is rolling in Syria, against Iran

Developments over Syria following recent collaborations between leaders of the United States and Russia have gained significant momentum. This also signals a decreasing Iranian role and a prelude to further setbacks for Tehran.

An hour long phone call last Tuesday between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin followed the latter’s meeting with Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.

After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum.

Political flexibility

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed last week to facilitate a full-scale political process in Syria and to sponsor a conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to end the war.

While some may consider this a victory for Iran, jumping to early conclusions blinds us from understanding how Tehran sought full hegemony in Syria. Today, circumstances account to major setbacks.

Putin’s hosting of talks on Syria inclines that Moscow calls the shots. This leaves Tehran deeply concerned, especially following its six-year long campaign to maintain Assad in power. The mere fact that Iran is sitting at the table with Russia, also in talks with the US over different issues, and Turkey, a Syrian opposition supporter, leaves no doubt Tehran will need to display political flexibility.

After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum. (Reuters)

Many would argue a pact between Washington and Moscow will define the blueprint of finalizing Syria’s crisis. Did the Sochi talks place Tehran and Ankara in line with Moscow and Washington? Doubts remain in this regard and Iran understands clearly how a post-ISIS Syria will come at a heavy price.

And with Russia significantly scaling down its military presence on the ground in Syria, Iran’s dreams of a Shiite crescent are endangered, to say the least. Moreover, the mere fact that China is considering a role in reconstructing post-war Syria means more players in the future of this country, and a declining part for Iran.

Seeking to safeguard its interests in Syria, Iran’s terrorist-designated Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) is also eyeing a share in Syria’s reconstruction. This should sound alarm bells, especially since such a role would provide a front for Iran’s efforts to maintain a foothold in the Levant.

Higher global interests

Certain is the fact that Russia’s reservations are not limited to Syria. On the international stage Moscow and Washington enjoy a certain stature. This said, it is quite obvious Moscow will not sacrifice its higher global interests for Syria.

The phone call between Trump and Putin is a sign of coordination between their two countries in Syria. With Washington playing an observer role in the Astana talks weighing Syria, one can conclude their role in the Levant is not eliminated.

Far from it, in fact. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said recently how the US is in Syria to stay. “US troops, in Syria to fight Islamic State, won’t be packing their bags now the jihadist group is essentially beaten. They’re staying on,” Bloomberg reported. This comes as the Pentagon is also likely to announce the presence of around 2,000 US troops in Syria, according to Reuters.

Iran understands fully that US presence in Syria is a source of dilemma for any future plans in the region. Considering the drastic consequences of Obama’s premature departure from Iraq, there are doubts Trump will allow such a repeat in Syria.

Riyadh’s reservations

Considering the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, one can conclude that Moscow will also be taking Riyadh’s reservations over Syria into consideration. Knowing the Arab world’s support is crucial, Putin will strive to obtain Riyadh’s consent.

In his latest meeting with United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized how his government worked with Saudi Arabia to unify the Syrian opposition, also indicating UN’s blessing for this latest push.

Unlike Iran, Assad remaining in power is not a red line for Russia. And Moscow will seek Riyadh’s cooperation to have the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional states jump on the train to bring a final end to the Syria crisis.

This spells into a more significant role for Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Middle East archrival, whose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in a recent New York Times interview described Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”

Foreign Ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, attend a news conference in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2017. (Reuters)

 

The shadow

Fueling more concerns for Iran is the fact that the Sochi talks focused on establishing peace and stability in Syria based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. This platform was even described by Iranian state media as an “American and Zionist conspiracy.”

The shadow of UN-backed solutions for Syria will continue to haunt Tehran. Putin also emphasized changes in the process of Syria’s political agreement will render based on the Geneva agreement framework.

To add insult to injury, the Syrian opposition meeting Thursday in Riyadh agreed to dispatch a single bloc for next weeks’ UN-backed peace talks. Nasr Hariri, a known Syrian opposition figure selected as the new chief negotiator, is heading to Geneva for the talks set to begin tomorrow. The opposition is ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table,” according to Hariri.

Tehran would have been delighted to continue fragmenting the Syrian opposition, as witnessed throughout the 6½ year war.

Iran’s dilemma

An opportunity is available to end Syria’s fighting, with a high possibility that a final political solution will materialize in the Geneva talks.

Iran, however, thrives on increasing violence across the region. Any decrease in such tensions is against Tehran’s interests as it allows the international community to place its crosshairs on Iran’s belligerence, including a controversial nuclear programdeveloping ballistic missiles, as senior Revolutionary Guards commanders recently threatened, spreading its influence across the Middle East through supporting terrorism and proxy groups across the board, and human rights violations.

In his abovementioned interview, the Saudi Crown Prince reiterated how the world has “learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.” As the international community seeks to bring an end to the war in Syria, appeasing Iran through this delicate process must be strictly prohibited.

How To Address Iran’s Aggressive Contributions To Middle East Turmoil

For years, Iran’s nuclear program has been in the international spotlight, leading to a highly controversial and flawed global pact aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

That pact, known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, hasn’t reined in Iran’s belligerence. Instead, Iran’s ballistic missile program and dangerous collaboration with North Korea have become new sources of concern for the global community, while its proxies and influence in the quagmires of Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria pose troubling threats.

New Reports Suggest Iran Has Missile Factories In Syria

Iran’s Syria campaign has already caused unprecedented mayhem in the Levant, driving more than half a million to their deaths, displacing above 12 million, and leaving a country in ruins. Tehran-blessed Shiite militias are on the march in pursuit of implementing and fanning the regime’s interests. Most recently, reports indicate Iran has established missile factories in Syria, as well as in Lebanon.

“Syria is building missile factories with Iranian inspiration,” ImageSat International reports. Satellite imagery show detailed views of a valley packed with buildings east of Baniyas, in an area named Wadi Jahannam—translated “Hell Valley.” The complex, which takes up several kilometers, contains buildings that resemble factories designed to manufacture surface-to-surface missiles.

Other important military sites include the Port of Tartus, where Russia continues to maintain a highly valued warm water naval presence, and the Khmeimim Air Base near the city of Latakia in western Syria.

The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, has just approved a $260 million budget increase for the regime’s ballistic missile program. Given Iran’s broad scope of domestic missile sites, as well as its international efforts in Lebanon, Syria, and North Korea, researching the destination of these millions of dollars is worthwhile.

These sensitive and highly controversial facilities, buried more than 50 meters underground to enjoy protection from aerial attacks, allow Hezbollah to procure high-tech missiles equipped with state-of-the-art guidance systems and ranging up to 500 kilometers.

Extending Its Grasp Beyond the Middle East

But Iran has far broader ambitions. The Hezbollah and Syria factories are only a chapter in its book of strategies. Reports by the Washington Free Beacon, amongst others, indicate that Iran is eyeing the Atlantic Ocean in its latest dispatching of warships.

Iran’s involvement in Iraq runs deep, especially through the support it generously provides to Shiite militias, the Hashid al-Sha’bi, known to have directed numerous massacres targeting Sunnis and other disarrayed minorities.

Tehran has taken advantage of the war in Syria to establish a key role in maintaining Bashar al-Assad’s power and making him completely reliant upon the clerical rulers.

And thanks to Obama’s legacy-defining nuclear deal, billions of dollars are pouring into Iran to fuel and steer all this belligerence. European companies such as Airbus, Total, and Renault are taking advantage of various sanctions reliefs to begin investing in Iran. Considering the 40 percent control obtained by the Revolutionary Guards on Iran’s economy, Europeans are injecting new life into Iran’s dangerous bellicosity.

Iran Is Taking Advantage Of ISIS’ Decline

Obama’s appeasement policy toward Iran only served to embolden the country’s aggressive maneuvers. State TV networks sense no need to maintain any secrecy, boasting instead about how Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s new defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, has pledged to advance the regime’s ballistic missile capabilities.

Tehran also has plans to enhance its strategic air and maritime power, and boost the capabilities and reach of its rapid reaction force.

Strategic visits abroad by Iran’s senior defense officials provide another disturbing aspect: a visit to Moscow in April and most recently to Ankara by the former defense minister and chief of staff, respectively, to meet counterparts and other officials are such examples.

Maybe most troubling of all is the way Iran is taking advantage of the Islamic State’s steady decline in Iraq and Syria, seeking to fill the resulting void. Iran-backed proxy militias are seen roaming large swaths of western Iraq and southern Syria leading to the Euphrates River, an important waterway that snakes from the country’s northwest to the southeast into Iraq.

Establishing a land-bridge linking Tehran to the Mediterranean has been a long-sought objective for Tehran. It would provide a corridor, enabling Tehran to send arms and logistics to the Syrian regime and Lebanese Hezbollah, giving the regime unprecedented power and influence.

How To Halt Iran’s Aggressive Agenda

In order to halt Iran’s aggressive agenda, U.S. leaders need to recognize that Iran’s Middle East meddling poses a top-tier threat, requiring urgent attention and action.

Second, the United States and Arab World should craft a carefully calibrated road-map to correctly evict Iran back to its own borders. Tehran must realize its Middle East overreach is backfiring.

The recent sanctions imposed by Congress, designating the Revolutionary Guard as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, is a long-delayed yet galvanizing start that deserves comprehensive implementation without any loopholes.

As the defeat of ISIS is nearing, this will allow the international community to begin combating Iran’s proxies and influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Iran in Crisis

The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Tehran has been hit with severe blows during the Munich Security Conference, contrasting interests with Russia, the recent escalating row with Turkey, and most importantly, a new U.S. administration in Washington.

These crises have crippling effects on the mullahs’ apparatus, especially at a time when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees his regime facing a changing balance of power in the international community, and is faced with a major decision of selecting the regime’s so-called president.

Iran and Ahvaz

The dust storms crisis in Ahwaz, resulting from the mullahs’ own destructive desertification policies, caused severe disruptions in water and power services and people pouring into the streets in major protests.

The regime, and especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), has for decades pursued a desertification policy of constructing dams, drying lagoons, digging deep oil wells beneath underground water sources with resulting catastrophic environmental disasters. Various estimates indicate the continuation of such a trend will literally transform two-thirds of Iran into desert lands in the next decade. This will place 14 to 15 million people at the mercy not only dust storms but also salt storms.

Iran and the Munich Security Conference

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended this conference with a series of objectives in mind, only to face a completely unexpected scene. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the mullahs are the source of threats and instability throughout the Middle East. Turkey went one step further and said Tehran is the heart of sectarianism and spreads such plots across the region, and all traces in Syria lead to Iran’s terrorism and sectarian measures.

This resembles a vast international coalition against Tehran, inflicting yet another blow to the mullahs following a new administration taking control of the White House. These developments are very costly for Khamenei and the entire regime.

In comparison to the early 2000s when the U.S. launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was the main benefactor. The current balance of power now is quite different, as seen in Munich. While there is talk of an Arab NATO, any coalition formed now in the Middle East will be completely against Iran’s interests.

Iran and Russia

Following a disastrous joint campaign in Syria, for the first time Russia is reportedly supporting a safe zone in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said contacts have been made with the Syrian regime to establish safe zones in Syria. These are the first remarks made by any Russian official on the issue of safe zones in Syria.

Moscow’s increasing contrast in interest with Iran over Syria has the potential of playing a major role in regional relations. Russia certainly doesn’t consider Bashar Assad remaining in power as a red line, a viewpoint far different from that of Iran. Moscow is also ready to sacrifice its interests in Syria in a larger and more suitable bargain with the Trump administration over far more important global interests.

Iran and Turkey

Yes, Ankara and Tehran enjoy a vast economic partnership. However, recent shifts in geopolitical realities have led to significant tensions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the mullahs of resorting to “Persian nationalism” in an effort to split Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of seeking to undermine Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Tehran’s “sectarian policy.” Cavusoglu used his speech in Munich to say, “Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped.”

Tehran considers Ankara’s soldiers in Iraq and Syria as a major obstacle in its effort to expand its regional influence.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s strong approach vis-à-vis Iran and the possibility of him supporting the establishment of a Turkish-administered northern Syria safe zone may have also played a major part in fuming bilateral tensions between these two Middle East powers.

Erdogan has obviously realized completely the new White House in Washington intends to adopt a much more aggressive stance against Tehran. This is another sign of changing tides brewing troubles for Iran’s mullahs.

Iran and Presidential Elections

With new reports about his ailing health, Khamenei is extremely concerned about his predecessor. One such signal is the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, current head of the colossal Astan Quds Razavi political empire and a staunch loyalist to Khamenei’s faction, for the presidency. With former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani out of the picture, Khamenei may seek to seal his legacy by placing Reisi against Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming May elections.

This is literally Khamenei playing with fire, as Reisi is considered a hardline figure and such an appointment may spark 2009-like protests across the country, as the country has become a scene of massive social challenges. Rouhani himself doesn’t enjoy any social base support, especially after four years of lies and nearly 3,000 executions.

Final Thoughts

This places the entire regime in a very fragile situation. From the internal crises of Ahwaz, the upcoming elections and the formation of a significant international front threatening the Iranian regime’s strategic interests.

Forecasting what lies ahead is truly impossible, making Khamenei and his entire regime extremely concerned, trekking this path very carefully and with a low profile. As we witnessed with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, Iran immediately released the 52 hostages held for 444 days.

This regime understands the language of force very carefully. And yet, there is no need to use military force to inflict a significant blow and make Tehran understand the international community means business. Blacklisting Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization by the U.S. at this timing would be the nail in the coffin for the mullahs.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Iran Sabotages a Syrian Ceasefire

By Heshmat Alavi

Despite the boasted rhetoric about the agreement reached in the Astana talks over the Syria ceasefire, this latest stage unveiled the limits involved parties face in bringing an end to the six-year war. Even Russia’s chief negotiator at the discussion reached the point of complaining, more than once, about diverse complications. And the main obstacle remains Iran, due to the fact that a true ceasefire in Syria should spell the end of its foothold.

The talks have even been dubbed a diplomatic coup, with all three sponsors, Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran accused of seeking separate objectives. The truth is there is no ceasefire thanks to Iran’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Despite the so-called “ceasefire pact” sealed on December 30th, pro-Assad forces backed by Iran — including the Lebanese Hizb’allah — have continued attacks on the besieged rebel-held area of Wadi Barada near Damascus.

The Syrian regime has resorted to the ridiculous excuse that al-Qaeda-affiliated “terrorist groups” are in control of Ain al-Fijeh, a small town in Wadi Barada. This despite locals reporting only a “tiny minority” of such elements being present. It is thus crystal clear that neither Assad, nor his Iranian masters, have ever sought a meaningful ceasefire in Syria.

In other areas, regime warplanes launched further airstrikes targeting rebel-controlled areas in west Syria, leaving 12 dead in one area alone, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fact is that the Astana talks have left many loopholes, and this is exactly what Iran will exploit to plunge the entire process into utter failure.

  • No details are available about a mechanism to monitor a supposed ceasefire.
  • Political issues failed to achieve any tangible progress and the talks are described as narrowly focused.
  • One senior Western diplomat criticized the entire initiative as “not very serious,” adding, “You don’t seal a ceasefire in two days.” There are no indications of any work on modalities, observers, mechanisms, maps, and so forth.
  • No document has been signed by Syrian opposition or regime representatives, the two parties who actually have to reach an arrangement.
  • While the agreement promises a separation of rebel forces into legitimate opposition and terrorists, no specific method is laid out over how, and according to what merits.

Russia may be considered the main benefactor of the talks, especially since the U.S. cited transition duties and participated only as an observer. Iran is amongst those tasked to monitor the ceasefire, while it is obvious Iran-backed Shiite militias, already accused of violating this ceasefire, will seek to exploit the numerous Astana agreement loopholes.

Even the next date set for future talks between Syrian opposition and regime delegations, Feb. 8 in Geneva, lacks firm confirmation. The Astana negotiations ultimately did not go as planned due to different interests pursued by all three sponsors, proving that Washington and the Gulf States must take part in any future effort.

Even such a goal encounters difficulty due to stark differences seen between Russia and Iran over the United States possibly taking part. Moscow is in favor of Washington, under the Trump administration, taking part, while Iran flatly rejects the proposal.

“They (the Russians) can now see how difficult their partners are,” one Western diplomat described, according to Reuters.

“They are finding a lot of obstacles from Hezbollah forces, Iran and the regime,” explained Mohammed Alloush, head of the Syrian opposition delegation.

Western diplomats have also voiced concerns, viewing Iran as a main obstacle to progress. Uncertainty is the least that can be said about Tehran’s commitment to what can hardly be described as a ceasefire.

At a time of concerns regarding Iran’s involvement in Syria, including a conglomerate of militias and Assad forces continuing to launch attacks on civilians in rebel-held areas, there are serious questions and doubts over Tehran’s legitimacy as a broker in this entire ordeal.

As seen over the past four decades, Tehran thrives on two pillars of domestic crackdown and provoking unrest across the Middle East. This leaves the international community lacking an obvious solution.

“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of dissidents including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Iran’s meddling report card in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen proves this is the sole solution that can render a lasting ceasefire and pave the path to genuine peace.

Originally posted in American Thinker

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Astana Talks: Why Iran and Russia differ on Syria?

KAZAKHSTAN-SYRIA-CONFLICT-DIPLOMACY
The Nur-Astana mosque in Astana on January 22, 2017. The Astana peace talks, set to begin on Monday, will be the first time a delegation composed exclusively of rebel groups will negotiate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP)

With a new administration under Donald Trump taking the helm in Washington, Iran has shown its concerns by opposing any participation by the United States in upcoming Syrian peace talks scheduled for today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

“We have not invited them, and we are against their presence,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on January 17, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, citing Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

This is Iran trying to keep a straight face for its dwindling social base back home, knowing they have lost hegemony in the Syria dossier to Russia, and yet refusing to admit such a strategic setback. Zarif’s remarks, however, went against pledges made by Russia and Turkey, who have recently taken the initiative out of Iran’s hands in Syria, of inviting the new Trump administration to the Astana talks. US officials have also signaled Washington will be taking part in the new effort.

This latest development points to a major conflict over one of the many definite flashpoints to come between Washington and Tehran over the Middle East. This goes parallel to the highly possible strong approach Team Trump is on the track of adopting, making a significant U-turn in comparison to the Obama administration and their immensely flawed appeasement policy.

In fact, it also proves how Moscow never considered Tehran a strategic partner. It is quite obvious Kremlin would prefer a strong relationship and a real “reset” with the White House, and not the mullahs and what little they have to offer. While Iran considers Syria its 35th province, it has never been the case for Moscow.

“If the enemy attacks us and seeks to take Syria or Khuzestan [oil-rich southwestern Iranian province], our priority would be to keep Syria, because if we keep Syria, we can take back Khuzestan. But if we lose Syria, we would lose Tehran,” said senior Iranian cleric and former IRGC intelligence chief Mehdi Taeb in describing the utter importance of Syria for Iran.

Russia’s objectives

Russia, however, has a variety of objectives in its return to the Middle East after 40 years. With crippling sanctions imposed by the US and Europe over the row in Ukraine and Crimea, Moscow is considering to not only gain a foothold in a strategic corner of the globe, but to also obtain a bargaining chip for future deals with Brussels and Washington.

Russia seeks to maintain its hold on Syria as a Middle East ally and a profitable market for its export of military weapons. This, however, does not spell into maintaining Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in power. The arrangements Moscow is looking for can be reached in talks with the West.

Tehran, on the other hand, is trekking a completely different trail and continuing its original path of establishing a disastrous “Shiite crescent” across the region. Meaning Iran simply cannot have an overhaul take place in Syria, while this is exactly what the Western-backed Syrian opposition seeks.

Iran has invested heavily in Syria and its conglomerate of Shiite militias–far more powerful than what is left of Assad’s army–are taking orders from Tehran, not Damascus. Syria is the cornerstone and the backbone of Iran’s Middle East strategy, stretching from Iraq to Lebanon and even Yemen.

As a result, with Russia pursuing a main objective of obtaining more concessions from the US and Europe on various issues including Ukraine, the possibility of Moscow and Washington reaching an agreement over Syria vastly in contrast to Tehran’s interests should not at all be considered farfetched.

This lays the ground for a dangerous potential, from Iran’s perspective, of Russia and the US coming to terms over Syria’s future. Moscow is in pursuit of a fast solution for Syria and sees Washington involvement in the Astana talks in line with such an objective.

And this is why Zarif, Iran’s top diplomat, seems to have shown such a harsh reaction, as if Iran is being thrown under the bus by Russia. The dispute between Moscow and Tehran over Syria and its future are serious, to say the least. As I explained in a recent Gatestone piece:

“Iran may have enjoyed tactical gains in Aleppo. However, Russia apparently has separate, long-term interests in complete dissimilarity from those of Tehran. Russia has conducted secret direct talks with the Syrian opposition. To add insult to injury, Iran – viewing the Obama presidency as a golden era – is also concerned about the incoming presidency of Donald Trump and his administration, who seem to have strong views against Tehran.”

Originally posted in Al Arabiya English

Iran’s strategic defeat in Syria before Astana talks

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By Heshmat Alavi

The war in Syria has reached a major turning point. The Iran-Russia honeymoon is over, and Moscow is warming relations with Ankara. Reports indicate the two coordinated airstrikes targeting Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist groups. Such a turn of events has even been described as Russia throwing Iran under the bus.

Turkish armed forces and the Free Syrian Army, under Russian air support, advanced in northern Syria to liberate key areas. This is strikingly similar to the measures adopted by Iran-backed Shiite militias with Russia’s support in taking control over Eastern Aleppo.

This new shift in Russian policy from supporting Tehran-Damascus to Turkey-FSA clearly indicates a strategic defeat for Iran. A sudden and unpredicted change of decorations, in line with heavy military operations, parallel to political agreements in writing. We are also on the verge of Astana talks set to place all parties involved at a round table, including representatives of the new Trump administration. This is much to the dissent of Iran.

“Iran, Russia and Turkey laid the foundations for the recent ceasefire in Syria… however, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm under a framework of bilateral negotiations in Ankara,” Iran’s state-run Alef website explained.

“Concerns remain over future Russian policy… Moscow has close relations with Ankara, and specific reservations about Riyadh. Inviting Saudi Arabia to the Syria talks… can shift the balance against Iran…,” Iran’s Arman daily added.

“Russia’s actions in Syria, cooperating with Turkey… neglecting Iran shows Moscow never takes Tehran seriously, and the hoax of strategic relations with Russia is only sought by Iran, while there is no such rejoice seen in Russia,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported citing Sharq daily.

It has now become quite obvious that Iran’s policymakers–read the mullahs–have made yet another strategic mistake, in line with their decisions to continue the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s even after Iraqi forces withdrew to internationally recognized borders; the occupation and hostage-taking fiasco of the U.S. Embassy back in November 1979; launching the completely unnecessary nuclear program while the country sits on an ocean of God-given oil and gas reserves; and meddling in possibly all neighboring and Middle East countries, most vividly seen today in Syria and Iraq.

The only difference now is the mullahs face very serious questions, such as why have they wasted billions in fueling a war machine killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians? Especially at a time when we witnessed heart breaking scenes of Iran’s homeless having no choice but to find refuge in pre-dug graves.

Here is a brief look at how Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has actually allocated the country’s wealth.

  • May 28th, 2013:  Iran opened two credit lines for Syria worth $4 billion and provided a $3 billion loan, according to Syrian Central Bank President Adib Miale. (com)
  • August 27th, 2013: Iran has up to this day allocated $17 billion for the Syrian war. (According to Liberation)
  • September 4th, 2014: Tehran opens a new $4 billion credit line for the Assad regime. (According to Le Figaro)
  • In December 2014 Reuters reported: “If it had not been for Iranian support we could not have survived the crisis,” a senior Syrian trade official said from Damascus, requesting anonymity… In July last year, Iran granted Syria a $3.6 billion credit facility to buy oil products, according to officials and bankers at the time. Another $1 billion went for non-oil products.
  • May 7th, 2015: Iran’s state-run Sharq daily estimated Iran, China and Russia provided around $500 million to Syria each month.
  • April 27th, 2015: “Diplomatic sources in Beirut estimate that Iran spends between $1 billion and $2 billion a month in Syria in cash handouts and military support. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently told a private gathering in Washington that Iran has been channeling as much as $35 billion a year into Syria, according to one of the participants at the meeting.” (Christian Science Monitor)
  • July 5th, 2015: Syrian President Bashar Assad approves a new bill consisting of a $1 billion credit from his regional ally Iran. (According to the state-run Syrian news agency)
  • August 2016: Iran has spent $100 billion in Syria, according to a report provided by Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

These numbers shed light only on a small portion of the billions Khamenei and his regime have stolen from the Iranian people to provide for their war machine, as so unfortunately witnessed in Aleppo most recently. Without a doubt the actual amount is far higher.

The question is where have the mullahs reached, strategically speaking, after wasting tens of billions in the Syria inferno, allowing a dictator to kill nearly half a million of his own people and leave more than 11 million stranded inside the country and abroad?

The Iranian opposition has time and again warned about the dangers of such a policy pursued by Tehran in Syria, and across the Middle East, and provided the sole solution to this deadly dilemma.

“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of organizations including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

From day one, exporting crises, terrorism and warmongering has been one of the main pillars maintaining the mullahs’ regime intact, all meant to quell domestic crises. This is exactly why senior Iranian officials continuously explain the necessity of fighting there (Syria) to not fight here (inside Iran).

Never mentioned are the Iranian people and their interests. The mullahs only seek to preserve their establishment, at all costs. And yet with the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime in its entirety is now utterly weakened as he played the highly important role of a balancing mast.

This is a regime bracing for further strategic defeats.

Iran Threatens the Syria Ceasefire Effort

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By Heshmat Alavi

Following nearly six years of bloody warfare and an atrocious takeover of Aleppo by the Russia-Iran-Assad axis, the world has finally reached a relatively reliable settlement in this war-ravaged country. Unfortunately, Iran continues to pose a serious threat to this yet shaky and fledgling settlement.

Russia, replacing the United States, has become the main counterparty involved in the ceasefire talks with the Syrian opposition and its ally, Turkey.

Considering the lame-duck season between November 8th and January 20th before the new U.S. president-elect takes the helm at the White House, these efforts to establish a lasting ceasefire — and hopefully tangible peace — in Syria need to be respected by the international community. This is especially true since the Syrian opposition have blessed this campaign, directly engaging Russia and Turkey.

The new Russia-Turkey relationship has also led to actions against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) targets in Syria.

“Turkish warplanes and artillery have struck Daesh targets in Syria, killing 22 of the group’s terrorists, while Russian aircraft hit terrorists near the Daesh-controlled town of al-Bab,” reports indicate citing Turkish military officials.

In addition to Turkey, the Syrian opposition also enjoys the support of a majority of its neighbors and Middle East countries, all believing Assad’s departure is key to reach a true political solution for this crisis that has taken the lives of nearly half a million and displaced over 11 million Syrians inside the country and abroad.

The dilemma, however, lies in the fact that Iran and its slate of proxy groups are erecting barriers in the path of establishing true ceasefire and peace conditions. Tehran is in full-speed mode to disrupt the entire process, as the mullahs in Iran seek nothing but the Syrian opposition’s all-out annihilation and to completely repaint the country’s social fabric in favor of Assad, ultimately maintaining his regime in power.

The Lebanese Hizb’allah, perhaps the main Iran-backed proxy entity, is feeling the heat following the latest developments in relation to Syria. Hizb’allah desperately relies on a land route from Iran to northern Lebanon to maintain the ongoing flow of support from Tehran.

“Sources in Lebanon told the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Arab that Hezbollah has rejected the Russia-Turkey-mediated ceasefire agreement for the Syrian civil war,” algemeiner reported.

The Lebanese Hizb’allah, known to be fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad as its army has dwindled during the years, is furious over the fact that Ankara has demanded all foreign fighters depart Syria even prior to any discussion of a possible diplomatic solution.

To add insult to injury for Hizb’allah, and Tehran for that matter, is the fact that Moscow has discussed Ankara’s demands with the mullahs, meaning that the Kremlin supports the measure and is seeking an all-out diplomatic solution. This is completely against Iran’s domination and destructive policy to derail the peace process.

Such a turn of events would be the final nail in the coffin for Iran as it continues to rely on foreign recruits and the Hizb’allah to provide the ground forces necessary in Syria.

This is especially significant considering the fact that dissent inside Iran regarding the regime’s participation in the war in Syria is growing.

“On December 16th, 2016, the fans of Foolad Khuzestan B F.C chanted slogans against the dictator Assad in support of Syrians and the people of Aleppo during the football match,” opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)website reported.

The NCRI is a conglomerate of Iranian opposition organizations, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), advocating democratic regime change.

Videos posted on the internet show demonstrations inside Iran demanding the regime stop meddling in Syria and plunging billions to shore up the faltering Bashar Assad regime, and actually think of the Iranian people’s needs and demands.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has comissioned the Revolutionary Guards to pursue his lethal policy in Syria, resulting in horrific death and destruction across the Levant.

As long as the IRGC and its proxy militias, including the Hizb’allah, remain on Syrian soil, this country will never witness peace and tranquility. The IRGC is a major threat to any campaign to bring an end to the mayhem devastating this land.

The IRGC deserves to be designated as a terrorist organization, being Iran’s main leverage to export terrorism abroad.

It is also high time for the international community to call for the very eviction of Iran, the IRGC and all of Tehran’s proxy elements from Syria.

Originally published in American Thinker

How Iran Got Stuck in the Syria Quagmire

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By Heshmat Alavi

Iran, known for its unbridled sectarian meddling in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, is currently facing an unwanted quagmire and dead-end in the Levant. We cannot limit Iran’s role and its meddling across the Middle East to 2016 alone. There is an ongoing war in the region, resulting from Iran’s escalating interventions.

Iran’s ultimate objective is to completely restructure the region’s entire fabric, pursuing a truly destructive and very dangerous policy in this regard. The war in Syria is one of the pillars of this initiative, also continuing in Iraq and Lebanon.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, known for his close relations with Tehran, was the byproduct of Iran’s policies in that country. Iraq under Maliki back in 2010 was oppressing the Sunni community, leading to a major revolt by this vital sector of Mesopotamia. Iraq continues to suffer from such atrocities.

Iran sustained its warmongering and expansionist ambitions in lands far away, such as Yemen. This initiative is also facing major difficulties, with Oman — known for its warm relations with Iran — recently joining the Saudi-led coalitionagainst the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sought to deliver serious blows to Saudi Arabia, using the war in Yemen as the necessary medium. However, Yemen cannot and will not remain the Houthis’ hostage, and this country will not witness a repeat of the Hizb’allah scenario in Lebanon.

The Syria Swamp

Syria, despite the heavy Iranian influence, is now becoming a colossal challenge for Tehran. As U.S. President Barack Obama failed to live up to expectations, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm, sidelining Iran as a result.

While Syria comprises the backbone of Iran’s expansionist adventure in the region, one cannot truly claim Tehran has made significant advances. The Aleppo war made it clear Iran’s aim is to occupy Syria. There is no Assad army in Syria and Iran-backed Shiite militia groups are rampant across the country.

By falling to Russia’s knees to intervene in Syria, Iran accepted the harsh reality of Assad no longer governing what is left of the country.

Currently Iran is no longer considered Russia’s partner in Syria. Moscow has its own interests, not necessarily in line with those of Tehran.

The Free Syrian Army, a major wing of the Syrian opposition, suspended its participation in the Astana negotiations in response to continuous military attacks by Iran and Assad against the Wadi Barda region near Damascus.

This has prompted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to demand that Iran rein in the Shiite militias and Assad from violating the so-called ceasefire.

“Turkey is working with Russia on the question of sanctions for those who violate the ceasefire deal, which was brokered by Ankara and Moscow,” Reuters reported citing Cavusoglu.

This is a vivid show of how Iran has been sidelined in Syria. It is quite obvious that Iran has no intention of allowing a political solution evolve and reach tangible results in Syria. Iran thrives on lasting crises and this is the mullahs’ very policy to maintain Assad as their puppet in Damascus.

Tehran is furious over the fact that Russia and Turkey signed an agreement with a variety of armed Syrian opposition groups, inviting them to the Astana talks. To add insult to injury, Ankara has made demands “requiring all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria, before a diplomatic solution is reached or even discussed.”

Of course, Iran giving in to such demands is highly unlikely after feeling shelved in the wake of the recent Ankara/Moscow initiative. It has, is and always will be in Iran’s nature a continued desire and need to inflame the entire region in turmoil. This is a vital lifeline for Iran.

Following close to six years of disastrous warfare, nearly half a million innocent Syrians killed and more than 11 million displaced, it is high time to reach a final and lasting solution.

“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran(PMOI/MEK), the main NCRI member, has played a pivotal role in alerting the global community of Iran’s human rights violations, terrorism, and meddling across the region, and the mullahs’ clandestine nuclear weapons drive. These revelations have further plunged Iran into its current crises.

After decades of appeasement by the West have proven a dismal failure, Tehran must be approached by a determined and firm international community.

Originally posted in American Thinker