Political Observation - Syria and the Iranian Role in the Region

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - Syria and the Iranian Role in the Region

The "Israeli" airstrikes on Syria on 4 May coincided with the pressure being exerted on Iran to leave Syria, Germany’s decision to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, the attempts to dismantle the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq with the defection of several armed factions affiliated to them and the plans to integrate them into the Iraqi armed forces and severing their affiliation to Iran with the support of the Shia authority, al-Sistani, who has now perceived the Iranian drive to dismantle the Shia authorities outside Iran and bring them under her control. They also came amidst a host of expected changes in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) whose former president, Anas al-Abdah, launched a scathing attack on Iran on 4 May and called for its expulsion from Syria, and who is now in charge of the negotiations’ file. 

 

The "Israeli" strikes also coincided with Turkey's decision to increase her military deployments around Idlib and the areas under her control and after the tone of the Russian media close to Putin changed towards the Syrian regime and Bashar Assad. Moreover, the al-Nussrah Front surprised observers on 7 May by changing its position on the Russo-Turkish joint military patrols along the M4 highway, ending its support for the Al-Karamah sit-in staged to denounce the patrols and ending its escalation against Turkey which had at some point reached the level of armed skirmishes.

Several indications corroborate the presence of an agreement between Russia and America to end Iran’s role in Syria such as the report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which accused the Syrian regime of having perpetrated the 2017 attack on Ltamenah in Hamah’s countryside, the admission of General Jamil al-Hassan that Bashar Assad was responsible for the massacres, the deepening rift between Bashar and his cousin Rami Makhlouf who is thought to have close links and common interests with the Iranians, in addition to The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and Russia’s reluctance to intervene and prevent "Israeli" airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian bases. These facts may also herald the end of Bashar Assad’s tenure with his exclusion from the ruling equation and the formula of the future regime. 

The "Israeli" defence minister told KAN 11 TV on 5 May that “Iran has no business in Syria and we will not stop until the Iranians leave Syria”; two weeks earlier, he said "Israel" had moved from the phase of halting Iranian positioning in Syria to the phase of expelling her altogether.” The "Israeli" statements accompanied by military strikes are expected to continue amidst the silence of the Russians who, despite their dominance over the Syrian regime, believe that “the Syrians used to take everything from the Soviet Union except advice”, and they are viewed as a message to Bashar Assad to prepare himself for accepting the political formula and displaying the required flexibility on the constitutional changes he has been hampering and complying with them. This is also in line with the statement of US special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, who said: “If Iran were truly concerned about the health and safety of the Syrian people, it would support the UN-led process…withdraw IRGC, Hezbollah, and other Iran-backed terrorist forces under its command from the entirety of Syria.” He also confirmed agreement with Russia and with the pressure it has been exerting on the Syrian regime to engage in talks on a new constitution which would pave the way for fresh elections under the auspices of the UN. 

As for Iran, it realises that it has been targeted in line with the Deal of the Century, and not just in Syria but also Iran and Lebanon, and that it has to turn inwards within its borders as per the press briefing of US secretary of state Pompeo on May 6 in which he said: “But we have been very clear to the Assad regime all along, and to the Russians in Syria: The Iranians need to leave. They need to leave not only the southwest corner that has a direct and real impact on Israel and risks to the Golan, but more broadly throughout the country…..we hope that they’ll rethink that and get back to doing what Iran needs to do, which is to take care of its own people in this very difficult time inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. ” US envoy James Jeffrey for his part stated in his interviews with “Asharq Al-Awsat” that “the United States supports Israel’s efforts of self-defence and has the right to take the necessary steps against the Iranian presence in Syria…”. This signals the end of Iran’s role in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, especially after the assassination of Qassim Soleimani and after having her function confined to terrifying the Arab Gulf to justify the Gulf States’ normalisation with the usurping entity and its integration into the region. 

Iran has exceeded the boundaries of its function in the region. It has been driven by nationalistic, sectarian and economic ambitions, thinking that her understanding with Russia and America would give her the opportunity to entrench her presence, not realising that major powers’ policies are controlled by expedient calculations rather than understandings. The sectarian system in Lebanon, nurtured by Iran, has been impeding the neoliberal project initiated by Rafiq al-Hariri to enable world capitalism to control Lebanon politically and economically. Sectarian chiefs have monopolised politics and the economy at the expense of foreign powers and the masses; this has led to the collapse of the Lebanese economy and warranted a reaction from the US who has set her agenda in motion and activated the centrality of patriotic identity ahead of the sectarian one which had been impinging on the project of economic liberalism and the political aims pertinent to the regional solution. America has also pressed for the implementation of the CEDRE Conference’s provisions to offer Lebanon development loans, and the terms and conditions of the IMF and the World Bank. This is what Saad al-Hariri called for on Thursday 7 May as he refused to partake in the meeting of the Lebanese leadership and to endorse the solutions it proposed few days ago. “We have not squandered the chance of the CEDRE Conference yet and if we implemented the terms and conditions of the World Bank, we would get the funds”, he said. 

As for Iraq, the US came to dismantle the region and then reshape it, as per the statements of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, within the framework of the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI). The Iranian conservative wing invested in its sectarian depth in the region and exploited the America plan to preserve its domestic and foreign assets, especially in Iraq where the Shia authority of al-Najaf competes with the Iranian sectarian authority laden with nationalistic sentiments. This is contrary to what America wants; it finds the reformist Iranians more obedient than the conservatives, especially now that it has achieved all its objectives from the sectarian mobilisation in the region and the Iranian scarecrow has been embedded in the “Sunni” Arab societal psyche. America has been working on reducing Iran’s influence abroad through the popular protests averse to its presence in Iraq and against its surrogates in Lebanon, and through the assassination of Soleimani, in addition to the military and political pressure she has been exerting on the PMF to sever their links to Teheran, and the strikes against Iran-affiliated militia in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the US inspired Germany to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and overlooked the cultural rights of the Shia in the Afghan constitution, as well as the sanctions it imposed on Iran. The lack of amenability from the US-affiliated Iranian leadership is due to the struggle between the reformists and the conservatives who refuse to change their domestic and foreign policy. This is why during a meeting at the foreign ministry in December 2019, before the assassination of Soleimani, foreign minister Javad Zarif launched a scathing attack on the policy of the supreme guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guards saying: “Unfortunately, the situation and the prevalent mood in Iraq have become hostile towards Iran due to the propaganda and the misconduct of the Iranians, and Iran’s exports to Iraq have sharply fallen in comparison with last year”. 

Commenting on Zarif’s conclusions, pro-reformist Iranian website “Saham News” stated “it reveals that Iran’s influence in the region has sharply declined, that the foreign policy of the Revolutionary Guards has reached a stalemate and that pictures of the supreme guide are burnt in the countries where we had invested economically and militarily; the prevalent mood in those countries has become very hostile towards Iran.” Hence, all these facts indicate that America is determined to change the behaviour of the Iranian regime through hard and soft power and restrict its role to terrifying and blackmailing the Gulf States and masses, within the context of what the US policy requires in terms of determining oil prices and sharing the cost of securing maritime supply routes and deploying US marines to protect them. 

As for the plane of the Turkish presence in Syria, it rests on the need to preserve Turkey’s national security threatened by the Kurdish enclave and the waves of Syrian migration which have started to bite into the Turkish economy and which have been exploited by the opponents of Erdoğan. 

Although Russia and America have been investing in these threats, each according to their own agendas and aims, Turkey for its part is however conducting its relationships with America, Russia and Europe on the basis of these files, aware of the Russians’ need to keep their distance from NATO and the Americans’ need for her assistance in reshaping the Syrian regime. Russia has so far been keeping an equilibrium between its relationship with Turkey and the Syrian regime; it does not wish to lose Turkey and is eager to maintain its relationship with her in order to weaken its links to NATO, whereas America has been attempting to put the brakes on Turkey’s surge towards Russia and bring it back to its stable based on the principle that “Turkey, the NATO member state, is bigger than the rebellious Erdoğan”, especially as it is attempting to build on the ceasefire in Idlib to settle the dispute by backing the efforts of the Constitutional Committee to negotiate a new constitution which would pave the way for fresh elections under the auspices of the UN rather than the Syrian regime’s, as per the statement of US Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. 

The fresh developments that have thrown a stone into the still political pond of the Syrian file are the incertitude surrounding Donald Trump’s return to power for a second term of office due to the coronavirus pandemic and the apprehensions towards the return of the Democrats who reject Trump’s policy towards Iran. 

The Russians were not too keen in expelling the Iranians since they needed them on the ground, but now that most of the Syrian lands have been recaptured from the opposition and Iranians have been weakened after being targeted by America, it is in Russia’s interest to see the back of them lest they should jostle with them over sovereignty and moneymaking interests, especially reconstruction. Hence, the Russian, "Israeli" and American volitions are in agreement on settling the Iranian issue in Syria, expelling Iran by force if necessary and severing the link between Bashar Assad and Iran, or speeding up a transitional phase which would remove Bashar and bring in a new leadership to uproot Iran’s presence in Syria. And with the emergence of some Russian flexibility in complicity in the strikes on Iranian militias in Syria, which James Jeffrey duly praised, and with the Russian pressure on Bashar becoming prominent, one of the Syrian National Coalition leaders sent a reassuring message to Moscow pledging to safeguard its interests if it responded positively to the opposition’s request on Iran and Bashar Assad; and this means events are proceeding against the wishes of the Syrian regime whose reliance on Iran has turned into a losing bet. 

As for the forthcoming political settlement for Syria, it is summed up by the exit of the colonialists through the door and their return through the window of reconstruction which crops up every time a political solution is mentioned; this is in fact what the US Special Representative for Syria has recently stated. The aim behind reconstruction is introducing soft colonialism to Syria by mortgaging her economy to moneylenders under persistent need, to the multinationals through the gates of privatisation and to the collaborating treacherous elites, thus stripping the masses of their identity in the name of liberal democracy and allegedly giving them the freedom to choose what they want and what the colonialists want. The masses would eventually turn into mere beggars or at best hired staff in their own country, with no objective and no cause but to struggle to make ends meet. 

For how long will the Kuffar continue to play with Ummah and kick her around like a football? And for how long will those capable of generating change remain oblivious to their abilities and powers to salvage their Ummah? 

“Is it not time that the hearts of all who have believed should feel humble at the remembrance of Allah and of all the truth that has been bestowed [on them] from on high” [al-Hadid-16]

17 Ramadhan 1441h
10 May 2020