Iranian Involvement in Syria Escalates Alarmingly

15000 troops

Assad’s war against the Syrian rebels is going from bad to worse: A series of critical losses against the rebels and dwindling coffers have weakened Assad to a point where some believe that his days as ruler in Damascus are numbered.

so he naturally called on his closest ally, for help and 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria with another 35,000 to be deployed in the very near future.

Iran’s increasing involvement in Assad’s civil war should light some serious warning signs and the main question remains what exactly will Tehran expect in return.

 

Up until now…

31iht-ednisman31-articleLargeFor a while, Tehran was content to support Assad politically and financially while downplaying its military aid in the civil war raging in Syria. It seemed, outwardly, satisfied to let its Hezbollah militia to spearhead the fight against the Syrian rebels while supporting the militia with IRGC “advisers” and “Afghan volunteers“. Although there were rumors that some of the casualties were Iranian troops, Tehran stuck to denials: Tehran supported Assad but Iranian troops were not involved in the battles and Assad himself joined in these denials.

At the same time, Iranian leaders such as Zarif and Larijani continued to warn foreign powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict and to let the Syrians deal with the civil war by themselves. Whenever talks of foreign involvement by the West or the UN arose, these same leaders would cry “foul” and call these efforts “meddling” while accusing “the West” of being responsible for the civil war in Syria, the birth of ISIS, the rise in extremism etc…

 

From bad to worse

Qassem Suleimani with a group of peshmerga fighters in KurdistanLast week, Hezbollah requested Iran “send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently”. Qods leader Suleimani wasn’t far behind and announced that “the world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days” and sure enough, word has leaked out that 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria.

What is not surprising is that numerous Iranian officials, including Rouhani, Zarif and Larijani reiterated over the past few days support for Assad. Rouhani ominously vowed to support Syria “until the end of the road” adding that Tehran has “not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria“.

 

Many questions arise

Iran-and-Syria-flags-combinedThis latest move by Iran raises three key questions:

  • Is Iran’s involvement in Assad’s civil war legitimate? Iran and Syria signed a military agreement endowing both sides to aid each other in case of war. But in this case, Syria is not fighting a war against another country. Tehran argues that the rebels are supported by foreign powers, namely Saudi Arabia, which gives it the right to aid its ally. This is a classic case of the “chicken and the egg” since the Saudis stated that their support of the rebels is in response to Iran’s support of Assad (echoes the situation in Yemen in which the Saudis are bombing the Houthi rebels who managed to overthrow the Yemeni government with the aid of Tehran).
  • Does this involvement reflect the will of the Iranian people? Tehran’s decision to finance a civil war in Syria (estimated at $10 billion) comes at a time when the Iranian economy is still weak. Zarif said that “the government of Iran follows the people not the other way around” but does the Iranian people support such an escalation of Iran’s involvement in Syria? Are the Iranian people ready to kill and fight for Assad? Nobody knows because nobody asked the people.
  • What does Iran expect in return from Assad? Trade, an obvious reason, can not be a reasonable option since Syria’s economy is shaterred. Some might argue that Tehran’s increased involvement reflects its fears of ISIS and other militia hostile towards Iran and or Shiites. Others believe that Syria is destined to be part of Iran’s aspirations for an empire that will include Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for now.

Whatever the case may be, Tehran’s increased support in Syria will not be overlooked by the regional powers nor the UN. If Assad is destined to fall in his civil war, Iran’s intrusion can only escalate the involvement of other regional powers in the area, namely Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Iran is King of the Meddle East

meddle eastTehran’s stance on Yemen is cynical to the point of schizophrenia. On the one hand, it is obvious to all that it is meddling in Yemenite politics by supporting the Shiite Houthi rebels to exchange the current Saudi-supported Yemeni government with one that is more sympathetic to Iran and to the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, once the Saudis struck back at the Houthi rebels, Tehran went into its “Deny, Accuse & Threaten” mode, by denying supporting the Houthi rebels, accusing the Saudis of meddling and threatening to retaliate.

Will Tehran ever come clean on its aspirations to dominate the region and/or Islam? Probably not until it has achieved its goal and by then, it will be a fait accompli.

 

Axis of Iran vs. Axis of Saudi Arabia

Iran-saudiMake no mistake, this is not a localized skirmish between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels: this is a war of wills between Iran and its allies vs. Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi’s first level of coalition includes Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. Its second level of coalition includes the US and then many EU countries and Israel.

The Iranian’s first level of coalition includes Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Its second level includes Pakistan (began as a Saudi supporter and then went neutral) and Russia.

This localized war is the fulcrum of interests of most Middle Eastern countries as well as US and Russia so what happens in Yemen happen will definitely not stay in Yemen.

 

Tehran’s Meddling Method

crescent dominationsYemen is not the first country that Iran is meddling in.

In fact, Tehran is a prolific and compulsive meddler in politics of states that can potentially join the Islamic Revolution. It has succeeded to do so in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The governments in these three countries owe allegiance to Tehran in no uncertain terms and their countries are home to Hezbollah militia and Qods “advisors” and forces.

It is also trying to meddle in all the Gulf states, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some South American countries to lesser degrees of success.

Here’s Tehran’s 5-point method of meddling:

  1. Identify “partners”: Identify pro-Shiite leaders, factions and militia within targeted countries.
  2. Support “innocently”:  Support them “culturally” and financially while meddling in local politics.
  3. Support Militarily: Increase meddling by introducing direct and indirect military strength.
  4. Strengthen Allegiances: Establish Hezbollah-like militia with allegiance directly to Tehran.
  5. Instigate Coup D’etat: Help the Shiite factions to overthrow the government and reap the political, economic and military benefits.

It is in this manner that Tehran manages to expand its level of influence without actually starting a war in any of these countries – The trick is to get an invite to meddle so that nobody can call it meddling.

 

Yemen Spiraling Out of Control

iran saudiThe war in Yemen is not only fought on battlefields but in rhetoric and right now the rhetoric is heating up.

Supreme Leader Khamenei simply called the Saudi attacks on Yemen “genocide“.  Of course, Khamenei is selective in using such words: He is careful not to call the slaughter of Yemenites by Houthi rebels, nor the slaughter of Syrian rebels by Assad’s regime “genocide” – both wars that are militarily supported by Tehran.

Iranian FM Zarif at first denied any Iranian support of Houthi rebels and warned Saudi Arabia that it was making a “big mistake” but then took a different approach that suits the smiling diplomat: Iran, Zarif says, is simply “worried about bout the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen” and is now calling for a change in government .

But his deputy FM, Amir-Abdollahian, was much more threatening:  He warned the Saudis that continued aggression against Yemen would lead to “inevitable consequences“, and insinuated, as usual, that the Saudis were being played by the US.

The US is walking a tight rope with no safety net: US President Obama is adamant in signing a nuclear deal with Iran despite knowing that a) Iran will remain hostile even after a nuclear deal and b) Iran can develop a bomb if it chooses to do so. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Kerry warned Tehran that the US would “not stand by” while Iran continues to support Houthi rebels.

The Saudi shrugged off Iran’s warnings and re-accused Tehran of meddling and of instigating the situation which has led to this war.

The upcoming weeks will be crucial as answers to the following questions will be revealed: Will the Saudi initiative be successful? Will Iran get involved directly? How will the US react? How will the rest of the world react?

Proxy War in Yemen Ignites Regional Power Play

saudi iranThe situation in Yemen is spiraling out of control and is rapidly turning into the center of a Proxy war with ever-growing conflicts of interests – Yemen was upgraded from a local war zone of government and rebels to a regional war with global consequences.

 

 

Tehran Meddles in Yemen

yemen iranBack in 2007, the Yemenite government accused Iran of “meddling in its internal affairs“. By  2012, Iran, through its Qods forces, supported Shiite Houthi rebels with arms shipments, Hezbollah militia and “military advisors”. A power play between Iran and Yemen’s historical patron, Saudi Arabia began to unravel.

Within three years, Yemen’s president fled from his country, finding refuge in Saudi Arabia while Sanna became another satellite of Tehran following Beirut, Damascus (through supporting Assad) and Baghdad (with the US’s blessing for fighting ISIS).  The US had already pulled out (a “death blow” for Yemen), the diplomats and the UN would follow – Sanna fell into disarray and panic as Houthi rebels, Hezbollah militia and suicide bombers took control. Meanwhile, economic partnerships were laid out and Iran even offered to provide Yemen with a huger power plant…it all seemed perfect for Tehran.

 

 

…except for Saudi Arabia…

saudi-arabia-armyThe Saudis were fuming at the loss of Yemen and the birth of another Shiite state modeled on the export of Iran’s revolution. They watched as the US backed out of Yemen while pursuing a nuclear deal which seemed to the Saudis shaky at best – in fact, it sent them to chase after their own nuclear program, possibly igniting a regional arms race.

And then, the Saudis, motivated by the fear of Iran’s increasing crescent of power coupled with the threat of Tehran with nukes, bombed the Houthis and suddenly, everyone had to pick sides. What had begun as a few border skirmishes with Houthi rebels as early as December 2009 developed into a massive airstrike which was quickly followed by preparations for a ground offensive: The 100 warplanes and the 150,000 troops that Saudi Arabia was “contributing” to the war could not be ignored.

 

 

Picking Sides…

handsThe Iranians, obviously, cried foul and demanded that the Saudis cease the attacks and accused the embattled government of using “terrorists” to fight the rebels (“terrorism” has become a question of geographical perspective). This didn’t stop the Iranians from unloading 185 tons of weapons on Houthi rebels. Pakistan first took the Saudis side and then switched allegiance to Iran.

Meanwhile, Arab countries, which also fear Iran’s meddling and the accompanying Muslim Brotherhood uprisings, backed Saudi Arabia: Jordan, Morocco and Egypt were the obvious ones. But Sudan, which had once been under Iran’s “support” had to choose sides and chose pragmatism over ideology.

Turkey, already involved in a proxy war over Syrian soil, decided to back Saudi Arabia as well. The Turks, just like the Saudis, fear Iran’s localized meddling, its regional aspirations, its Islamic war-cry and its nuclear potential. Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Iran’s nuclear potential. Now the leader of Turkey visits Teheran, we await the outcome of that.

Even the UK slammed Iran for supporting the Houthi rebels and effectively overthrowing the government.

 

And the US?

150321173909-2441-0The US was stuck between the proverbial “rock and the hard place“: Support its historical friends or its new negotiating partner?

Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran as well his “appreciation” of Iran’s war with ISIS lead him to favor his friends in Tehran which unleashed attacks from within (the Republican Senate) and from without (Israel, the Gulf States and some countries in the EU such as France and the UK). This did not stop him from creating a framework of a nuclear deal with Iran which is to be finalized in June.

Obama is trying to stay neutral on Yemen, knowing that joining Saudi Arabia would jeopardize his prized nuclear deal. But sooner or later, he will have to choose sides.

 

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Iranian Terror On The Rise

suleimani terror

Let’s face it, while nuclear negotiations are plodding along the long and winding road to an unknown destination, Iran is enjoying a “breathing space” as a result from the divisions between the members of the P5+1 regarding what to do with Iran until the deal is inked.

This “breathing space” has allowed Iran to strengthen its diplomatic and economic relations and has brought much needed relief to the Iranian people in the form of a better economy and an environment of guarded hope for a better future.

 

Steady Course for Nuclear Program

At the same time, this “breathing space” has also allowed Iran to stick its course on its nuclear program.

Doing so might sound like a valid strategy but since Iran’s nuclear program had crossed too many red lines in the past, this means that it remains beyond the red lines in the present. Yes, there is more transparency but the military base at Parchin and the heavy-water plant at Arak are still hidden under veils of secrecy which inspire doubts as to the sincerity of the Iranians regarding military dimensions to their nuclear program.

 

Steady Increase in Military Influence

But while the nuclear program is on a steady course, this “breathing space” has allowed Iran’s military programs beyond its borders to increase dramatically.

Iranian backed terror is not a new development but it is a growing one. A closer investigation of the Islamic uprisings in Europe and the US would probably show that Iran’s helping hand is deeply involved.