Trump’s strike against Assad in Syria: The message for Iran

The United States military took decisive action early Thursday morning through launching a total of 59 precision guided Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting a Syrian airbase north of Damascus.

This site was believed to be used by Bashar Assad to carry out a horrific chemical weapons attack last Tuesday, leaving more than 500 killed and injured in Idlib Province of northwest Syria. Entire families were devastated, such as Abdulhamid al-Yussof, who lost 25 members of his family, including his wife and 9-month twin babies, Ahmed and Aya.

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US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike, carried out by two US warships, the USS Porter and USS Ross, prior to his meeting with the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, possibly also sending a message also to North Korea about its nuclear ambitions.

More importantly, however, this strike, signaling a major shift in US policy, will be viewed as a strong message to Iran, being the main supporter of Assad regime throughout span of this atrocious six-year carnage against innocent civilians. And this turn of events couldn’t have arrived at a more critical timing, only weeks prior to Iran’s presidential election. Tehran will need to carefully evaluate the road ahead.

The strike

The very nature of the US attack, taking place at 3:40 am local time when minimum activity at the Shayrat airbase was expected, the fact that Washington had at least to some extent informed Moscow of its intentions prior to the strike, and the effort put in at the United Nations Security Council to obtain international consensus shows the objective was to deliver a political message to Assad, Iran and all other parties involved in Syria.

Reports indicate many hardened hangers and fueling stations at the airbase were destroyed. A more important statistic was also reported indicating Assad lost 9 to 14 Sukhoi warplanes, an asset fortunately very difficult for this regime to replace. Additionally, General Khalil Ebrahim, one of Assad’s senior commanders, was killed in the strike along with a number of other Syrian regime troops involved in the horrific Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack.

International consensus

Following eight years of devastating inaction by the Obama administration, partly due to its seeking to seal a highly flawed deal supposedly intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the global community has made its position loud and clear by voicing support for this measure against Assad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francoise Hollande issued a joint statement supporting the US missile strike. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said his country understands the reasoning behind this military move by the US, and British Defense Minister Michael Fallon described the action quite necessary.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also fully approved the strike against Assad’s military targets. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voiced strong words in the Security Council on Friday, saying Iran also bears heavy responsibility in Assad’s chemical attack after supporting the ruthless Syrian dictator for years.

“Getting Assad out is not the only priority,” Haley said in a Sunday interview with CNN. “What we are trying to do is obvious defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally, move towards a political solution.”

Representing a rare bipartisan measure, a significant number of Democrat and Republic senators in the US on Friday presented a bill to punish the Syrian regime for its war crimes.

Senators Bob Corker, Ben Cardin, Marco Rubio, Jeanne Shaheen, Robert Menendez and Todd Young introduced the “Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act”, instructing the US Secretary of State to “report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria, and authorize assistance for investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal, to hold Assad and his regime accountable for their heinous acts.”

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa backed the attack on Assad’s airbase, adding Thursday’s attack was a clear warning to Iran and all states supporting Assad in massacring innocent people.

Iran left terrified

Being caught completely off guard after enjoying 8 years of Obama’s unrestrained appeasement, Iran has found itself cornered after the recent US precision air strike against its Syrian puppet.

The road ahead for Tehran is now quite complex, to say the least. One so-called expert best depicted Iran’s utter fear in an interview with Iranian state TV saying, “I hope the US brings this to a halt and resolves this issue through diplomatic agreements.”

The semi-official Fars news agency, voicing the position of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), shed light on another aspect of Iran’s concerns. “The Syrian coalition… welcomed the strike and called for the continuation of such attacks,” the wire reads.

Ever since US President Donald Trump came to the White House, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan have called for the elimination of Assad and increasing sanctions against Iran, according to the Iran Online website. Turkey welcomed the military action against Assad and once again placed forward its plans to immediately impose a no-fly zone over Syria.

While reports indicate the presence of IRGC elements in Shayrat, the White House announced Trump is discussing with other world leaders the possibility of establishing a safe zone in Syria, according to Iran’s Entekhab website. Reports indicate the Pentagon is also providing Trump with plans on attacking Syria and setting Assad aside, the post continued.

Final thoughts

This attack couldn’t have come at a worse timing for Iran. To resolve the Syrian crisis the international community needs to expel Iran from the Levant and move forward by first designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Already concerned about the possibility of its powder keg society exploding into nationwide protest similar to that of 2009, Tehran has now suffered a major setback in Syria.

Evicting Iran from the Levant is “indispensable to bringing peace and tranquility to, and removing fundamentalism and terrorism from the region and the world,” according to a statement released by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Looking into the near future, Iran’s presidential election, read selection, is scheduled for May 19th. Knowing the Sharyat airbase strike by the US has sealed Washington’s change in policy and attitude, Tehran is left devastated and seeking desperate measures to maintain face, especially inside the country.

Massacre In Syria Is Why Iran Must Be Evicted

International media aired horrifying images of Bashar Assad’s most recent massacre through an atrocious chemical attack staged by his Sukhoi 22 warplanes targeting the city of Khan Sheikhoon in Idlib Province, in Syria’s north. At least 100 suffocated to death and more than 400 were left injured with symptoms similar to those caused by sarin gas. Most of the victims were women and children and even the hospital where the victims were being treated was bombed.

While the Syrian opposition delegation involved in the Geneva talks said this chemical attack has left future negotiations looking bleak, this horrific act of vicious barbarity should pinpoint the international community’s attention on the main element behind all this carnage: Iran’s involvement in Syria in a diehard effort to maintain the dictator Bashar Assad in power.

A wave of international condemnations followed this killing spree.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement.

“While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said through a statement, urging Russia and Iran to prevent Assad from the use of chemical attacks.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini held the Syrian regime responsible for this horrendous chemical attack.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called for accountability for those behind the dreadful Idlib attack and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the world must not neglect Assad’s crimes and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu condemned the Idlib attack as an inhumane crime.

The scene on the ground is considered even too gruesome to describe. Physicians in Idlib have called on the international community for their support. Idlib’s White Helmets warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Khan Sheikhoun, adding Assad’s bombing campaign is targeting their sites and even known medical centers.

The Syrian Physicians Organization said the al-Rahme hospital in Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in six different bombing raids, leaving no doubt of Assad’s indifference between military and non-military targets.

Reports indicate all hospitals in Idlib Province are struggling to provide care for casualties from Khan Sheikhoun.

The Syrian crisis has recently been gaining increasing attention in the international stage, with the tide turning against Assad and his main supporter, Iran. As rebels staged surprising attacks in Damascus recently, social media activists campaigned through the hashtag #IranOutOfSyria to raise voice against Tehran’s deadly meddling in Syria.

Public opinion in the Arab World has been increasingly against the role played by Iran through its Revolutionary Guards – the entity behind Tehran’s human rights violations, nuclear program and ballistic missile drive – and a conglomerate of proxy groups in Syria. There no longer is any doubt in the Middle East that the main element behind the ongoing catastrophes caused by the war in Syria is none other than the regime in Iran. Over 500,000 people killed and 14 million displaced throughout the country or scattered across the globe has been the end result to date.

What has raised eyebrows recently is far more transparent positions taken by the West, especially the new U.S. administration on Syria. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has vividly underscored the necessity to confront Iran’s meddling in the region, evicting its forces from Syria and labeling Assad as a war criminal. A recent European Union Foreign Ministers session in Luxembourg emphasized on the necessity to support the Syrian opposition and guaranteeing Assad having no future in Syria.

Already riddled with a presidential elections crisis around the corner, these recent developments have left Tehran terrified, especially due to Washington’s major policy overhaul turning attention to the roots of this crisis, being the regime in Iran.

For years the Iranian opposition has been highlighting how Iran is the main reason for the continuation of the war in Syria and the main obstacle before peace.

Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, condemned the Idlib chemical bombing and the ruthless killing of civilians, describing the killing of such innocent children as a grave war crime. Khamenei and Assad, as in 2013, are responsible and must face justice, Rajavi continued, adding war and crisis will continue until Iran and the IRGC are evicted completely from Syria.

While the new Trump administration has only been at the helm in Washington for less than three months, a major change in guards has already been witnessed. There is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill on Syria to bring an end to Iran’s role and presence in this country. States across the Middle East and Turkey also agree action is necessary against Iran’s fueling of the Syrian crisis.

To this end, and after six years of utter carnage, it is high time to completely root out and eradicate any and all Iranian related presence in Syria, and the first step in such a roadmap to reach peace in the Levant is to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.

ANALYSIS: Iran’s lethal role expanding in Syria as war enters seventh year

On March 15th the international community will unfortunately be marking a milestone of disastrous nature. The conflict in Syria began as peaceful demonstrations by a nation seeking freedom from the reign of a dictatorship and to establish true democracy.

The regime in Iran, however, viewed such a development as a red line and placed its weight fully behind Bashar Assad and his ruthless killing machine.

Why is Syria so important for Iran?

Syria is of strategic significant for Iran, as the mullahs considers the country their 35th province. This reached the point that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched his Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to prop Assad’s lines in order to maintain their reach to the Mediterranean Sea and continue the flow of much needed weapons, including dangerous missiles, to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

This Shiite group has provided Iran a platform to advance its agenda to a serious extent from the 1980s to this day. Hezbollah has transformed into a rogue military force while also taking control over a large swathe of the country’s political power. Hezbollah has taken actions forcing the West to see no other solution but to adopt a highly flawed appeasement policy in their faceoff with Iran.

In short, Syria provides the Iranian regime crucial grounds to maintain all challengers and challenges at bay, meaning far from its own borders.

A glance at the 6-year war

Shortly after the Syrian protesters were gunned down by Assad’s forces, the Free Syrian Army began to form as a large swathe of Assad’s ranks and files defected. By June 30th, 2011, Assad was on the verge of being overthrown.

Understanding the impact of such a blow, Iran began its covert support and its efforts were certainly not an unknown factor for the West, especially the U.S. under the Obama administration.

Iran’s forces gradually took command of the war in Syria and by August 2013 the IRGC ordered Assad to launch a chemical attack against a Damascus suburb that rendered around 1,500 civilians killed, including many women and children.

Irony lies in the fact that Tehran was involved in secret nuclear talks with Washington at the time, and senior regime officials came to the conclusion the international community, held back by the Obama White House, would not take any serious action against their killing crusade in Syria.

Iran established its Syria strategy on two principles:

a) Providing all-out support for Assad in quelling any and all forms of dissent,
b) Indirectly supporting extremist groups with the goal of creating rifts amongst opposition lines to deprive the Syrian opposition of meaningful international support demanding Assad’s ouster.

Iran: The Godfather of ISIS

It is now a known fact that ISIS is the rendered phenomenon of the lethal crackdown imposed by Iran’s dual puppets, former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Firstly, Iran’s policies in the Middle East have provoked deadly face/offs between Shiites and Sunni communities that used to live alongside, and even within each other, for centuries. Iran’s support for Shiite proxy groups has been well-documented.

However, it must be understood that Tehran also instigate sectarian hatred amongst Sunni to pursue its broad blueprint of maintaining the entire region in flames. Iran began to purge and literally cleanse the Sunni population in Iraq and beyond following the 2003 US-led invasion of this country.

Secondly, Maliki and Assad have both been accused of facilitating the release of a joint sum of over 2,500 inmates from their prisons who went off to form ISIS. The Assad regime is also under severe scrutiny on evidence of purchasing oil from ISIS, providing the group much needed revenue to maintain its activities.

Iran rallying Russia to the rescue

The Syrian opposition was once again on the initiative in early 2015, delivering significant blows to the Assad apparatus in the country’s north and south. The Iran/Assad/Hezbollah alliance was no longer able to hold ground and the IRGC was becoming desperate in maintaining Syria.

IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask for much needed air support for Iran’s army of proxy militias alongside IRGC officers and troops. Despite launching the so-called “Operation Moharram” in Aleppo, the IRGC failed to reach its objective and Hossein Hamedani, commander of all IRGC forces in Syria, was killed in battle, alongside dozens of other senior Iranian military officers.

Sensing the threat, the IRGC doubled its troops in Syria to 60,000 and Khamenei even resorted to tasking units of his regular army to dispatch to Syria. Various gains were made, resulting in horrific cases such as the IRGC massacring Sunni locals in the city of Mayer.

The siege on Aleppo began in late 2016, depriving 300,000 civilians in the eastern branch of the city of any food or water, while bombings and unspeakable war crimes continued.

Finally, with the involvement of tens of thousands of militias, and reports indicate up to 25,000 IRGC troops, East Aleppo was retaken by pro-Assad forces and a ceasefire was reached on December 29th, 2016, allowing tens of thousands of civilians to leave the city – despite continuous reports of continued killings – alongside thousands of armed Syrian opposition members.

While Iranian-related forces violated the ceasefire seeking their desired objective, being the Syrian opposition’s complete annihilation, the Syrian opposition was able to evacuate a large number of innocent civilians from Aleppo and preserve their armed forces. This downgraded Aleppo into a mere tactical gain Iran and Assad.

Trusted commander

On Syria, Khamenei is the figure making the final calls and he has entrusted the Syria dossier to his most trusted senior commanders. The dilemma forced Tehran to also dispatch members of the IRGC and regular army ground forces alongside the Quds Force and its network of proxy militias. The IRGC navy and air force have also had their share of battle in Syria.

Iran has gone as far as sending over 70,000 foot-soldiers to Syria, literally dwarfing the number of soldiers fighting for Assad, being less than 50,000, according to IRGC reports.

All Iranian ministries and government institutions have shares in the Syria war, adding to the IRGC dedicating vast economic resources to the Syria war. This goes part in parcel to the fact Iran has through the course of the past six years allocated above $100 billion to the Syria war. This massive capitol is used to procure weapons, provide for the Syrian army’s expenses and IRGC militia members’ salaries adding up to around $1 billion a year.

And the casualties Iran and its forces have suffered, meaning excluding those of the Syrian army, add up to over 10,000, including 1,500 IRGC members. To add insult to injury, 70 IRGC deaths involved colonels or more senior ranks.

This sheds light on Iran’s fundamentalist role and the importance of the Syria dossier for the mullahs, and exactly why the international community, from the Middle East, Europe and the US, should take very powerful actions to completely evict the Iranian regime from Syria.

One right step in this path is to designate the IRGC, being the Iranian entity in charge of the mullahs’ Syria campaign, as a foreign terrorist organization. This will make Iran begin to understand its meddling across the region will have consequences, and the international community will no longer tolerate such atrocities.

Originally published in Al Arabiya English