THE ROLE OF IRAN IN THE WAR IN SYRIA

how-iran-fuels-syria-war

Freedom Star : This is a good article about the destructive role of the mullahs’ regime in Syria. In particular, references of article  from the book ” How Iran Fuels Syria War” (Published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the US representative office-NCRI-U.S. Rep Officeare very interesting and documentary.

In my view, military intervention and massive financial and military support of the Assad’s dictatorship, interference in other Middle Eastern countries like Yemen and Iraq, is not a sign of strength of this  regime, but indicates the nature of the regime. Mullahs have repeatedly said, if they do not fight in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, they should fight in the streets of Tehran. This is a sign of weakness  and deep fear from Iranian people’s uprising against religious dictatorship ruling Iran. I invite you to read this article.

” This article was published on The Diplomatic Observer magazine’s November 2016 issue and here I publish the article on my weblog with the permission of the author. This article can only be copied and published with the permission of the author.” 

By : Prof. Dr. Türel YILMAZ ŞAHİN

Today Iran is one of the most powerful and active actors in the Middle East. Iran appears to have joined fully in the problems and conflicts of the chaos ridden region. While it provides financial and military support to some national movements in the region, it has also been joining the fighting directly, as in Syria. While implementing its policies in the region, Iran prefers to use the demographic structure of the region and the Shiite Arabs as means. Iran is trying to create zones of influence in a region that stretches from Iraq to Lebanon over Syria and includes Gulf countries, especially Bahrain.

Efforts by Iran to increase its presence in Syria and the policies it has begun to implement to this end go much further back than the demonstrations that began in Syria in March 2011 and pushed the country into the chaos of civil war. [1] Especially since the 2003 Iraq War, Iran has been following the policy of gaining influence in the region by using Shiite elements and it has been observed that it was trying to change the Sunni population of Syria to suit its own ends. Iran has made effective use of education to his end, and has hosted many Syrian young people for an education. These young people would then return to Syria and spread Shiite ideology in line with the education they had received. It was known that activities to spread the Shiite belief had been concentrated in the Syrian governorates of Deir ez-Zor, Ar-Raqqa and Daraa. Reports in 2005 indicated that some Sunnis of the Afadile tribe in Raqqa and the Muvali tribe in Homs had taken up the Shiite belief and that Iran was giving monthly aid of 20.000 Syrian Pounds to those becoming Shiites. Wealthy Iranians had funded the restoration of some Shiite holy tombs and places of worship from 2003 onwards and a Shiite school bearing the name of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hameney was opened near Damascus. Around the same time, many Iranians had settled in Damascus, close to the Tomb Of Zeynep, which is a holy site for the Shiites and the district of Al-Amin close to the tomb had become almost entirely Shiite.

Iran’s activities in Syria were not limited to “education”, “financing” and spreading the Shiite faith.  Iran was also observed to have been active militarily. Following the invasion of Iraq and amidst rumours that Syria would be the next, from the mid-2000s onwards, Iran attempted to form something like the Mahdi Army[2] in Syria.  The reasoning was clear: Protecting the Assad regime and protecting the country against a possible US-Israeli attack.

From 2003 onwards, Iran had increased its presence in Syria considerably using the Shiite elements. It was therefore inevitable that Iran would be actively involved in the developments in Syria which began in March 2011. Today it is an undisputed fact that Iran works against the opposition groups that are fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

Iran’s Involvement in the Syrian Civil War

Five years have passed since the fighting began in Syria. The peaceful demonstrations of Syrian citizens to voice their complaints of the government and for a change of administration have in time transformed into a full-fledged war that involves foreign powers.

The harsh reaction of the Assad regime against the peaceful demonstrations of the Syrian people caused many officers of the Syrian army to defect and join the popular movement, leading to the founding of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in August 2011. The FSA began armed struggle against the Assad regime shortly after it was founded. Regime forces suffered a series of defeats. It was at this point that Iran, which had been consolidating its presence in Syria since 2003 entered the fray.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hamaney sent Hussein Hamadani[3], commander of the Revolutionary Guard to Syria. Iranian forces commanded by Hamadani joined the fighting in Syria. The proof that Iran had sent troops in was uncovered when 48 officers of the Revolutionary Guard were caught in Syria two months after their deployment. This also showed that Iranians were concentrated higher up in the chain of command.

Why did Iran actively enter the war in Syria? The answer to this question was best given in a speech delivered on February 14th 2013 by Mahdi Taeb, Commander of the Ammar Strategic Base.  At the meeting Taeb said that Syria was the “35th province of Iran” and a “strategic province” and continued:  “… If we were to be attacked and there was danger that both Syria and Khuzestan would fall, we would strive to protect Syria, because if we can protect Syria, we can take Khuzestan back. If we were to lose Syria, we cannot protect Tehran.”[4]  This speech clearly displays the importance Iran attaches to Syria and it abides by this thinking in actively participating in the war.

One of the most important developments in the civil war in Syria was the use of chemical weapons against civilians. It had been stated that the use of chemical weapons constituted the “red line” for the USA. However, the USA did not intervene after chemical weapons were used.  It has been suggested that Iran blocked US intervention. According to Ali Riza Zakani, an Iranian MP, Hamaney did not want US military intervention in Syria and to this end the Commander of the Quds Brigade sent a warning to Americans through an Iraqi official, threatening to target American bases and firms in the region, should they intervene. [5] While it is not possible to verify Zakani’s claim, the USA’s reluctance to act even after its “red line” of chemical weapons use had been crossed had raised question marks.

In 2013, at a time in which the confusion and violence of the civil war was running high, a new terrorist organisation emerged that declared itself to be the “Islamic State”, with its capital at Raqqa.  The ISIS escalated the fighting in the region even further with its dirty tactics.

The first half of 2015 saw opponents of the regime enjoy gains. The opposition was especially successful in the northern and southern fronts and managed to push back the alliance of Syrian regime forces, Hezbollah fighters and Iranian regime forces. That the opposition was advancing in the Idlib, Jisr al-Shughur and al-Ghab regions and moving towards Latakia indicated that the Assad regime had been weakened considerably.  At this point Iran asked Russia for help and in late-September 2015, Russia became actively involved in the Syrian civil war in the framework of combating ISIS. Russian involvement turned a new page in the conflict.

Kasım Suleymani, commander of the Quds Brigade which is controlled by the Iranian regime, held a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. It is said that Suleymani told Putin that should Russia provide sufficient aerial support, the Revolutionary Guard and its allies in the region could make rapid advances over land and take back lost territory in Syria from the opposition.[6] The same issues were discussed at the meeting of Putin and Hamaney in Tehran in November 2015. Hamaney argued that the USA’s plans to dominate Syria and the Middle East were a threat to all countries, Russia and Iran foremost.[7] According to Iranian dissidents, Hamaney promised Putin at this meeting that they would “fight in Syria until the last Revolutionary Guard soldier is dead.”[8]  By January 2016, it was claimed that the Revolutionary Guard had doubled the number of its troops involved in action in Syria to 70.000.  It should be noted that the regular army troops of Syria itself number less than 50.000.

Iran’s Financial Support for the Fighting in Syria[9]

As Iran is involved militarily in the war in Syria, it is also supporting the regime financially. Tehran has allocated USD 100 billion to the fighting in Syria from its budget for the last five years. Most of these funds were transferred secretly by Hamaney’s office to Syria. The money was used in arms purchases and military spending in Syria.  The Tehran regime is spending USD 1 billion a year just for the pay of military forces, militias and forces that are in close cooperation with the Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian regime is paying its own Revolutionary Guard personnel, Iraqi mercenaries working with the Quds Brigade, Aghans known as “Fatemiyun”, Pakistanis known as “Zeynebiyun” and the Lebanese Hezbollah. It is also paying the families of Syrian troops, Revolutionary Guard members and Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan mercenaries.  The money paid to relatives of Syrian soldiers is different in amount to that paid to relatives of non-Syrian fighters.  While the Syrian families get approximately USD 40 per month, non-Syrian families get up to USD 500 per month.

In addition to these costs, Iran is also making payments to displaces Shiites in Syria and those living in Shiite areas that support the regime. For each household member, the Iranian regime is paying approximately 4.000 Syrian Pounds (USD 10).  It is estimated that the number of Shiites under the protection of Iran is around 100.000.  These payments make up only a small amount of the expenditure Iran carries out in Syria and do not include the material, military and logistical support given to the Syrian army. It has also been claimed that Hamaney has agreed to meet 25 per cent of the cost of arms imported to Syria from Russia.

The Syrian civil war, in which Iran is actively supporting the Assad regime, is today the cause of global level developments. The chaos in the region exports terrorism to other parts of the world and large waves of migration not only cause humanitarian tragedies but cause security concerns for countries receiving the migrants. To prevent even worse consequences, the war needs to be ended peacefully as soon as possible.

[1] I had previously touched on Iran’s activities in Syria. See Türel Yılmaz, “Suriye’de Şiileştirme Politikası”, Cumhuriyet Strateji, Y.4, S.161, July 30 2007, p.16.

[2] The military organisation formed by Shiite insurgents under Muktada al-Sadr in Iraq after 2003, with the support of Iran.

[3] Hamadani is one of the most experienced commanders in the Iranian army, who has played a major role in the Iran-Iraq War and the crushing of the popular demonstrations in Iran in 2009.

[4]http://iranpulse.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/02/1346/head-of-ammar-strategic-base-syria-is-irans-35th-province-if-we-lose-syria-we-cannot-keep-tehran/ (e.t. 11.10.2016)

[5] How Iran Fuels Syria War: Details of the IRGC Command HQ and Key Officers in Syria, 1th. ed., National Council of Resistance of Iran, US Representative, Washington, 2016, p.4.

[6]How Iran Fuels Syria War: Details of the IRGC Command HQ and Key Officers in Syria, p.7.

[7]https://tr.sputniknews.com/rusya/201511231019205425-kremlin-rusya-putin-iran-hamaney-suriye/ (e.t., 15.10.2016)

[8] How Iran Fuels Syria War: Details of the IRGC Command HQ and Key Officers in Syria, p.7.

[9] Figures for financial support offered by Iran in Syria were taken from How Iran Fuels Syria War: Details of the IRGC Command HQ and Key Officers in Syria, p.49-51.

Comment about source of article :

” This article was published on The Diplomatic Observer magazine’s November 2016 issue and here I publish the article on my weblog with the permission of the author. This article can only be copied and published with the permission of the author.” 

Mahmut ŞAHİN

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