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.

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ANALYSIS: How the tide turned against Iran in Iraqi Kurdistan

Despite all the brouhaha made over Iran’s “lightning” advances in Iraqi Kurdistan, the entire scene change in less than 48 hours.

Tehran desperately needed to respond to US President Donald Trump’s lambasting October 13th speech launching a major policy shift and designating the Iranian regime’s crown jewel, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), as a terrorist organization.

The flag representing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), brought down by Iran-backed militia forces known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was raised once again Wednesday night.

Despite the tens of thousands of locals who fled their homes, footage on social media showed armed residents stationed in the streets of Kirkuk, Khaneqein and a number of other cities.

With locals taking matters into their own hands, and international pressure escalating on Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered all armed forces other than local security units to withdraw, forcing the PMF to retreat.

This is literally a slap in the face for Tehran.

Conflicting Reports

Rumors and various reports stream out of Iraqi Kurdistan on a constant basis. Reports indicate forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by KRG President Masoud Barzani arresting a number of ISIS commanders in the town of Hawija.

Further reports claim of these ISIS units coordinating attacks with Iran’s Quds Force and its commander, Qassem Soleimani. In this regard, allegations have been raised accusing the PMF of launching attacks targeting Kurdish areas aimed at releasing these very ISIS commanders.

As always, rumors and allegations are endless. Without a doubt, however, is the fact that the Iran-backed PMF units, considered Tehran’s “national treasure” in Iraq, have been forced to withdraw from Kurdish cities.

Many reports of these units attacking Kurdish homes, plundering people’s property and even setting their residents on fire were posted in the mere 48 hours of their presence in these cities. PMF units are known to have committed similar crimes in Sunni Arab cities following their cleansing of ISIS forces.

The United Nations expressed its worries and Washington called an end to all clashes and disputes.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a statement strongly condemning the IRGC’s “aggression and occupation,” adding Suleimani had been “plotting for it in Sulaimaniya and Baghdad and other areas of Iraq.”

Iran’s True Colors

The actions of Iran’s IRGC and the Quds Force in Iraqi Kurdistan, parallel to Suleimani’s presence, made Tehran’s deceitful role and intentions crystal clear for all parties.

Various outlets have accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), defragmented following the death of former leader and Iraqi president Jalal Talibani, of signing behind-the-curtain deals with Iran.

Suleimani has been in Kurdistan for at least two weeks and there are rumors of Talibani’s family agreeing to stand down in the face of PMF units entering Kirkuk and other Kurdish regions.

Iran, of course, has not remained silent and used its influence in an attempt to save face and make further threats. The Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant for PUK Deputy Director General Kosrat Rasul. In contrast to Iraqi Kurdish politician Barham Salih and members of the Talabani family who expressed their gratitude for Iran’s “support” of the Kurds, Rasul described the events taking place in Kirkuk as an occupation, going on to accuse certain figures of becoming Tehran’s 5th column.

There are now even reports heard of the Iraqi judiciary summoning Barzani himself to a court of law on charges of threatening Iraqi security, illegal oil smuggling, along with other administrative and legal violations.

America Steps In

There is word of senior Trump administration officials contacting al-Abadi, threatening military action if the PMF refuses to withdraw from Kurdish cities. Rumors also indicate Moscow made similar threats, as all parties sense the dangers of a fresh round of military conflict in Iraq playing into the hands of the all but completely annihilated ISIS, and more importantly Tehran.

Fresh in the minds of all parties are scenes of PMF units staging attacks on Sunni communities, committing atrocities against entire towns and villages. Such an outcome would only play into the hands of Iran as the sole benefactor of increasing turmoil in Iraq.

The Big Picture

Without a doubt the expansion of PMF units across Iraq, and as a result the IRGC Quds Force’s influence in this very important stretch of land, has raised eyebrows and concerns in Washington.

The PMF is specifically seeking to occupy certain areas to facilitate the land bridge sought by the Quds Force between Tehran and Damascus, stretching to Lebanon and the shores of the Mediterranean. With such means the Quds Force would enjoy the ease of providing necessary arms and equipment for the Lebanese Hezbollah, and beyond.

As various forces enter and exit the restive cities of northern Iraq, efforts are also underway to launch talks between Baghdad and the KRG capital, Erbil.

Iraqi President Foad Masoum, himself a Kurd, has been travelling between these two cities in attempts to have al-Abadi and Barzani agree to sit for negotiations. Al-Abadi was also recently the guest of Saudi King Salman in a visit to Riyadh that certainly caught the attention of Tehran.

“We are open and we want to move away from the past,” he said in the Saudi capital. “The region cannot tolerate any further divisions. Interference in the internal affairs of other state should stop.”

Looking Forward

Iraq will be holding general elections next year and al-Abadi is currently under pressure from two Shiite fronts.

Tehran-backed elements led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have long been planning their return to power. Supporters of Muqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric distancing from Iran and establishing closer ties with Saudi Arabia, is seeking to institute his position. It is a very high probability – and a nightmare scenario for Tehran – that Sadr may ally with secular Shiites led by Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, alongside a number of Sunni groups to establish a coalition government.

The developments in Kurdistan have raised the intensity level in Iraq. Iran understands very well that the fall of the ISIS will allow the US and international community to focus on the main element threatening the entire region.

As explained in a White House press release prior to US President Donald Trump’s landmark October 13th Iran policy speech:

• Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy.

• In doing so, the United States has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East. Recently, the Iranian regime has accelerated the seeding of these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.

• The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes.

Iran sought to recover following the IRGC’s terrorist designation by the US Treasury Department under Trump’s orders. With its supported units forced to withdraw from Kurdish cities, this crusade has not only backfired, but transformed into yet another slap in the face for Tehran’s rulers.

These major developments have sparked major diplomat efforts, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has launched a trip to the Middle East, with a first stop in Riyadh and making a call for Iranian “militias” to leave Iraq.

Analysts view this as a Washington push to establish a Saudi-Iraq alliance aimed at countering Iran’s regional belligerence.

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.

Sanctioning the Terrible Twosome

The world currently faces two atomic crises in Iran and North Korea, despite long strides in the effort of nuclear non-proliferation. Deep military and nuclear cooperation between the two states makes dealing with these challenges even more difficult. One may have thought lessons would have been learnt from the devastating lessons of appeasement from World War II – yet the approaches adopted vis-à-vis North Korea and Iran in signing nuclear agreements have raised accusations that Neville Chamberlain’s famous policy is still alive and well.

It’s obvious that Iran has learned from North Korea, and vice-versa, in both military and diplomatic spheres: in a recent Raddington Report article we argue that there are few nations that view North Korean missile tests with more interest than Iran. The Islamic Republic yearns to be in the position North Korea finds itself in – to have developed a nuclear arsenal, along with the means of deliver the payload. And North Korea covets to have had the opportunity Iran found: usurping Obama’s desperate need for a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement to garner a slate of concessions.

There is seemingly little appetite for a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran – yet the appeasement of these two rogue regimes have left the international community in more of a quagmire. North Korea is holding South Korea and Japan hostage (along with tens of thousands of stationed US troops) while Iran continues its regional meddling, support for terrorism, ballistic missile advances and human rights violations, all whilst reaching an agreement with the P5+1.

Pyongyang and Tehran have both sought nuclear weapons as insurance for their notorious regimes. Enjoying enticement by US administrations since the 1990s, North Korea has reached its objective, at the expense of it’s starving people – and economy more broadly. Iran, whilst seeking nuclear capability, began feeling the heat of international sanctions and escalating public anger, which forced it to trade a curbing of its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. What goes unnoticed, however, is how agreements signed by the international community with these two regimes provide a green light to the ruling autocrats to pursue the oppression of their own populations.

Iran has continued its practice of abducting American citizens and sentencing them to long prison terms. A situation in which Kim Jung Un was provided more inducements to come to the negotiating table – as in Iran’s case – could possibly result in further abductions, assassinations and more tens of thousands of political prisoners held in facilities so large they are visible in satellite images. Concessions have already provided Iran a green light to expand its domestic crackdown and meddling abroad. The definition of insanity, famously, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Offering a possible insight into the Trump administration’s future approach to Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Nikki Haley delivered a speech recently in the American Enterprise Institute, stating that; “…if the President does not certify Iranian compliance, the Corker-Cardin law also tells us what happens next. What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands,” she explained, in reference to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations continued.

Following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, which led to claims that the DPRK has acquired the ability to test a hydrogen bomb, there is belief amongst high circles in Washington that North Korea is supporting Iran in return to the path of obtaining nuclear weapons. While Washington is weighing its options in responding to North Korea’s latest nuclear bomb test, most concerning are obvious shows of allegiance, such as a recent 10-day visit to Tehran by Pyongyang’s parliament speaker Kim Yong Nam.

Thanks to a ‘windfall’ of billions of dollars provided by the Obama-blueprinted nuclear deal, Iran has the hard currency and financial assets North Korea needs. In return, Pyongyang can deliver the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology Tehran wants to acquire. It has become increasingly obvious these regimes are far from rational actors who can be persuaded into taking action for the better benefit of the international community. North Korea must be made to bow before demands to give up nuclear weapons, whilst Iran must be made to understand that following the path of its East Asian partner is not an option.

The response Tehran receives from the international community, with the US at the helm, is of vital importance. The failure of previous US administrations to take any meaningful action to prevent the growth of such a dangerous nexus leaves us with the circumstances we face today. It is a known fact that many of Tehran’s ballistic missile designs, such as the Hwasong series, are based on Pyongyang prototypes. This is the result of political and military ties leading back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Concerns escalate to a highly lethal level when we realize Iran’s missiles, mirroring those of its North Korean sisters, could enjoy the capability of delivering nuclear payloads. These decades-long close exchanges have now also provided Iran the ability to construct missile production factories in Syria and Libya, some underground.

It is increasingly difficult to deny Tehran’s diplomatic, economic and military ties with Pyongyang. It is even possible the two country’s scientists have been present at each other’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, one after another. Tehran and Pyongyang must be made to comprehend that a continuation of their provocations cannot not be tolerated – senior Iranian and North Korean leaders, along with the institutions maintaining their rule, should be the target of crippling international sanctions. Kim, Khamenei and their henchmen, must find it far more difficult to plunder their people’s wealth for their own interests, while the two populations suffer in poverty. The international community should also boost campaigns aimed at drying up the two regimes’ supply chains providing the needs for their missile and nuclear drives.

This question is now raised over the meaning of seeking a new nuclear arrangement with North Korea, especially as the JCPOA is currently being usurped by Iran. Surely rapprochement will only encourage Pyongyang to continue its current aggressive nature – and what lessons would Tehran, a regime enjoying a dangerous reach across the Middle East, learn from this? There is no need to explain how Tehran and Pyongyang have most likely followed each other’s negotiations with the international community, the deals sealed to buy time, the successful and unsuccessful lies and deceptions and how to come to each other’s support when needed. Most importantly, however, they have learned how to create rifts amongst Western countries, such as the United States, France and Britain, and to utilise Russian and Chinese postures, to divide in the UN Security Council.

As Haley correctly said, “Enough is enough.” War is neither needed nor welcomed. An international consensus to impose crippling sanctions on the regimes of Iran and North Korea is necessary.

Although watered down to garner the support of Beijing and Moscow, the sanctions adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Monday against North Korea, capping the regime’s oil imports from China and banning its profitable textile exports, is a step in the right direction. One hopes this is the beginning of a continuing trend to bring an end to Pyongyang’s dangerous bellicosities, and sends a powerful message to Tehran of the international community’s resolve and intolerance for such rogue behavior.

If history is to teach us any lesson, it is that of rapprochement rendering nothing but death and destruction. If we seek an end to the current nuclear standoffs, all parties must further set aside their short term interests and think for the better good of all.

Make Iran Pay a Price for Regional Meddling

There is no doubt that the Middle East is in turmoil like never before. And this is highly due to the disastrous engagement/lead-from-behind policy adopted by the Obama administration, despite its claim it sought to lessen tensions.

Iran is taking advantage by expanding its sphere of influence through proxy groups in Iraq, propping the Assad regime in Syria by dispatching a conglomerate of militia shock troops and fueling the Yemen war by providing arms, money and logistical support to the Houthis. However, the days of Iran’s advances are numbered.

As the Trump administration continues to place its crosshairs on ISIS in Syria, Tehran is busy in a land-grab campaign, already thinking about the post-ISIS Levant. Iran has also through the years ordered its offspring, Lebanese Hezbollah, to dispatch thousands of its members to Syria.

Washington must come to understand more action is needed against Iran’s moves in Syria. Tehran is also seeking to raise the stakes for the US in the all-important region of southeastern Syria. A series of incidents all clearly indicate the escalating tensions on the ground and in the skies:

—         US fighter jets targeting Iran-backed militias nearing a base of America-backed forces in al-Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border,

—         US warplanes shooting down two Iranian-made drones and a Syrian Sukho-22 jet targeting allied Kurdish forces on the ground,

—        Iran launching medium-range ballistic missiles from its soil to Deir Ezzur in eastern Syria.

The most recent White House warning to Assad not to resort to a chemical attack raised the temperature even higher. It is obvious Assad would need permission from Iran and Russia for such a move. Thus Washington was sending an “on notice” message to Damascus, Tehran and Moscow.

Iran’s objective is clear: establishing a land corridor passing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and reaching the Mediterranean shores. On both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, Tehran has militia proxies seeking to push ISIS out of the region and prevent any US-backed forces, be it the Kurds and Sunni Arabs advancing upon Raqqa, or the Free Syrian Army in the southeast, from gaining any further foothold in Syria after the fall of ISIS.

Iran seeks full control over the Syria-Iraq-Jordan borders and will not tolerate any US presence in the area. Iran has also ordered Hezbollah to stretch its activities to Daraa in southern Syria close to the Israeli border.

While the Trump administration has taken unprecedented military action to protect its interests, White House statements explaining US-led coalition forces do “not seek to fight” Iran-backed forces will be viewed by Tehran as a window of opportunity to continue their belligerence in a highly-hostile flashpoint area.

And while we are here, Russia declaring a freeze on deconfliction agreements with the US is nothing but a bluff considering the fact that Moscow has already accomplished more than its expectations in Syria: fortifying a naval and air base, and establishing a major foothold in the Middle East after decades of absence.

It is high time for Washington to begin defining and taking steps in the direction of its broader post-ISIS Middle East policy. It is imperative to understand Iran’s threats will only further increase and the end of ISIS will not mean the end of violence or Tehran’s destructive meddling.

Iran’s actions in Iraq after 2003 should provide a very disturbing vision. Tehran dispatched its mullahs and flooded the country with money to launch “cultural centers.” This was the beginning of Iran spreading its tentacles and injecting its disparaging mentality to fuel sectarian wars that continue to haunt Iraq and wreak havoc in the country.

Shiite militias have been harassing the Sunni minority for over a decade as Tehran seeks to change the complete social fabric of Mesopotamia. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as the Hashid al-Sha’bi in Arabic, are a replica of the mullahs’ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Iran’s influence in Iraq has reached the point of this entity being legalized by the Iraqi Parliament.

As ISIS routed the classic Iraqi army thanks to the disastrous policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran began justifying PMF presence in battles for Falluja, Ramadi, Salahaddin, Tikrit and now Mosul.

Firstly, it is a dire necessity for the US and its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and all Gulf Cooperation Council states, to quickly remedy the Qatar crisis and prevent Iran from taking advantage of such a rift.

Secondly, as ISIS is being eradicated, all attention must be focused on Iran and its devastating meddling in the region. One very imperative measure to curb Iran’s influence and bring an end to its reach across the region is for the US, European Union and Arab nations to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Finally, Sunni Arab states should be involved in rebuilding the devastated lands of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to prevent Iran from again taking advantage of such an initiative for its deceptive objectives.

Iran must come to learn that the days of meddling in the region without paying the price are over.

ANALYSIS: Is Iran plunging the Middle East into another war?

The days of ISIS are numbered and voices are heard about the entire region being forced into a far more disastrous conflict. Various parties, mainly the US and Iran, have begun jostling, seeking to inject their influence onto what the future holds for Syria.

As Iran has also wreaked havoc in Iraq and Yemen, concerns are rallying on Tehran going the distance to pull the US full-scale into the Syria inferno. Such a mentality results from misunderstanding the nature of what is known as the Iranian regime.

Escalating tensions

After establishing a foothold in the strategic town of al-Tanf near the Iraq-Jordan-Syria border, US forces designated a buffer zone to provide protection for their own troops and resources, alongside their allies of anti-Assad opposition rebels.

1) On three different incidents Iran-backed militias have made advances into the buffer zone, only to receive warnings and eventually be attacked by US warplanes.

2) Raising the stakes, on two occasions Iran-made pro-Assad drones have been downed by US-led coalition forces.

3) And maybe the ultimate incident came when a US F/A-18 fighter jet shot down a Syrian Sukho-22 warplane after the latter dropped bombs on US-backed Kurdish forces north of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS.

An Iranian soldier stands guard in front of the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran February 1, 2016. (Reuters)

Tehran’s habit

Understanding its conventional and non-conventional forces stand no match against the classical armies of the US and the unity of its Arab allies, Iran has for the past 38 years resorted to tactics of its own.

Terrorist attacks across the region through proxy groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah have proven successful. The 1982 Beirut bombings of US and French barracks led to the American pullout of this highly fragile country. As a result, Tehran has used this method ever since to send its message. Following the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran yet again resorted to paramilitary and proxy methods to advance its interests in the region.

Seeing no strong response only emboldens Iran in its pursuit of wreaking havoc. Witnessing the disastrous and premature withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and Obama’s refusal to live up to his own red line after Assad resorted to the extreme low of gassing his own people in 2013, Iran came to a conclusion such actions will continue unabated.

The language of force

There have been cases otherwise, however, including Operation Praying Mantis on April 18th, 1988 when the US Navy launched a campaign against Tehran’s naval fleet in retaliation for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq war and the subsequent damage to an American warship.

The attack came as a major wake-up call for Iran as the mullahs in Tehran only understand the language of force. The 59 cruise missiles the US used to target the Syrian regime airfield used to launch a chemical attack on Homs earlier this year also rose eyebrows not only in Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, but the world over.

The recent incidents in Syria are further serious signals for Iran that such belligerence no longer will go tolerated, especially considering a new US administration in Washington adopting a far different perspective and strategy than its predecessor.

Iranian air force’s US-made F-4 Phantom fighter jets perform during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP)

Solution

What needs grave understanding is the fact that Iran is the last party that seeks a full blown war in Syria, Yemen or any other region of the Middle East. The Iranian regime is seeking a win-win solution, enjoying an open hand in meddling across the region to such extent to prevent any major international community retaliatory action.

Has Iran been successful? To this day, mostly it has, unfortunately, thanks to the West’s highly flawed belief in adopting a policy of engagement with Iran to tame the mullahs and enjoy short-term economic gains.

The tides, however, are changing for the better. Iran’s Achilles Heel must be the main target as seen in the recent US Senate resolution imposing sanctions on the regime’s ballistic missile program, support of terrorism and human rights violations.

Tehran may kick, scream and threaten to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in retaliation. Yet rest assured the mullahs will not make such a grave mistake, triggering the automatic re-imposition of sanctions under six previous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards lies at the heart of the mullahs’ illicit activities both inside the country and abroad. This entity also controls around 40 percent of the country’s already fragile and highly corrupt economy.

To this end, there is no need for another war in the region. Iran knows better that such an outcome would only accelerate developments against its interests. The US and Arab world can and should lead the international community by designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.

This will be a complementary measure to the abovementioned Senate resolution, and bring Tehran to its knees. Such an initiative will place the international community alongside the Iranian people in their struggle against the ruling mullahs’ regime.

This is especially true after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Washington’s support for domestic forces seeking peaceful regime change in Iran.

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

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

BLACKLIST IRAN’S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS

The right signal to Tehran’s mullahs.

It is a known historical fact that actions speak louder than words. Iran is beginning to understand this loud and clear with a new administration in Washington.

U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, in his first public appearance, issued a stark warning Wednesday in response to Tehran’s latest ballistic missile test and continued support for Shiite Houthi proxies in Yemen.

The main apparatus behind Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling across the Middle East, suspicious nuclear drive and horrendous domestic crackdown is none other than the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Shiite militias trained, financed and armed by the IRGC have also killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.

Supplementary reports indicate U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, intended to send a firm message to the mullahs: you may have enjoyed such leeway during Barack Obama’s tenure. But no more.

As Flynn condemned Iran’s recent medium-range ballistic missile test–which ended in failure–he went on to warn Tehran over instigating instability across the region.

Such a reaction marks a serious, and long due, tonal difference necessary in Washington vis-à-vis Iran. For too long the mullahs’ took advantage of the Obama “golden era” as they viewed it, furthering their reach across the region with their involvement in Syria and Iraq, both leading to unspeakable atrocities.

Iran has resorted to its old tactic of testing the new Trump administration and risking a bold move to win points domestically amongst a small, and depleting, social base. Yet this new measure is beginning to backfire significantly, unlike what Iran enjoyed during the past eight years.

President Trump is also considering how to approach the Iran nuclear deal, which he threatened to tear up during the elections campaign.

As heated discussions continue in this regard, the Trump administration should begin “vigorously enforcing” the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan of Arkansas.

For example, there should be no more toleration of Iran violating already excessive limits set on sensitive heavy water production.

While Washington is preparing to slap new sanctions and ratchet up further punishment measures against Iran by possibly beefing up military presence in the flashpoint Persian Gulf region, one silver-bullet-type measure is available with the potential of inflicting damning results on the mullahs.

The IRGC, considering its role in spearheading Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nuclear drive and meddling across the Middle East, should be blacklisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctioned appropriately.

Such an initiative enjoys support in Congress.

U.S. lawmakers have called on the new administration to support designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. They cited its ongoing support of the Assad regime, where hundreds of thousands have been killed during the civil war,” reports show.

Iran’s “missile program is against the Iranian people’s interest and must be stopped,” Maryam Rajavi, President of the main Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said recently.

“Banning all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies” are further necessary measures proposed by Rajavi.

The NCRI is a coalition dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), enjoying a history of consistently unveiling various aspects of Iran’s nuclear programballistic missile initiativesmeddling across the region and human rights violations.

The IRGC has become a vast political and economic empire in Iran, enjoying an iron grip and “network of companies that came to dominate Iranian industries from energy to telecommunications,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The IRGC is also known to broker deals with China, as the country’s oil-hungry economy seeks to increase crude imports.

Other measures include enforcing travel bans already imposed on IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the man who visited Moscow and begged the Russians to rush to Bashar Assad’s support in Syria, and who has been roaming the streets of FallujahMosul and Aleppo.

Iran is also vehemently seeking a United Nations blessing to begin executing a $10 billion purchase of Russian conventional weapons. While the Obama administration turned a blind-eye to Russia’s delivery of the S-300 anti-air missile system to Iran, Washington can make it clear to Moscow that any further arms deals with Iran will significantly damage bilateral relations.

To this end, the Trump administration has before it a variety of measures that can effectively teach Iran’s mullahs a dire lesson. The IRGC is the entity the mullahs consider most dear, and should be the focus of Trump’s crosshairs.

Originally published in FrontPage Magazine

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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