by Reza Shafiee
Once again, as in 2010 and Iraq, the window is closing in Syria, and soon, if the U.S. and its allies do not act swiftly in stopping and expelling the IRGC and its proxies from expanding in the lands ISIS is leaving behind, the Iraq scenario might repeat itself.
Every three months, there's a deadline for a U.S. “recertification” of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As that deadline approaches, discussions in the Beltway heat up as to what is the right approach toward a government which complies with the letter of the deal but not the “sprit," despite signing off on the contract with six world powers in 2015, which limits its bomb-making capabilities for at least 10 years.
If nothing has been learned from the behavior of mullahs in Tehran over the past 40 years, one thing is obvious; they succumb only when their back is against the wall. Case in point is the eight-year-old Iran-Iraq war, which left hundreds of thousands dead, and billions of dollars in losses just on Iran’s side. It ended when Supreme Leader Khomeini was convinced that the regime was only steps away from a crashing defeat and subsequent collapse.
Many Iran watchers in the West regrettably fail to notice the nature and structure of mullahs’ hierarchy, which is built on the foundation of Velayat-e faghih (Guardianship of Jurisprudence), and the absolute rule of the Supreme Leader - Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1970s and 1980s, and now Ali Khamenei. These two pillars of power simply mean ruling with an absolute iron fist at home and exporting its brand of Islamic ideology (terrorism and fundamentalism) abroad. There are no “moderates” or “hardliners” in Iran.
There are talks in the media even among the staunch supporters of the Obama administration on one hand and the White House’s inner circles on the other as how to continue putting a tight leash on Iran beyond 2026 or 2031 when the JCPOA expires.
Politico reported on Sept. 15:
“One-time aides to Barack Obama are holding meetings, contacting lawmakers and working the media in an urgent bid to prevent the dismantling of one of the former president’s signature foreign policy achievements.”
The Iranian regime’s unprecedented rage toward U.S. has not gone unnoticed. President Donald Trump reciprocated Khamenei's tough takes on Iran which has tested a new bomb calleding “Father of all Bombs” –copycatting the U.S.’s Mother of all Bombs, which was tested last spring in Afghanistan - by calling for rigorous inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said: “Washington will walk away from a nuclear deal it agreed to with Iran and five other nations if it deems that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not tough enough in monitoring it.”
The U.S. president made it crystal clear in his speech before the current session of UN General Assembly that he distinguishes between Iranian people and their desire for a peaceful free Iran, and ruling mullahs in Tehran who are busy making intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles.
He called Iranian regime a "murderous regime," which "masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy." He called the Iran nuclear deal made by the Obama administration, "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into" and while not vowing to immediately cancel it, he added, "don't think you've heard the last of it."
A chief concern for the U.S. administration, despite Iran’s signing off on the nuclear deal is that it has a destabilizing role in the region. Obama was wishfully hoping that the mullahs would behave after the deal was struck, but it was just an illusion since he failed to realize that there is no good mullah in Tehran.
Iran undermines the U.S.’s goal of kicking ISIS out of the Middle East and at the same time reassuring its jittery allies in the Arab world that they will not be harassed by their unpredictable neighbor Iran.
The top American admiral in the Middle East,Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, said that in Yemen, Iran is sustaining the Houthi rebels with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border. The United States, the Yemeni government, and their allies in the region have retaliated with strikes of their own and recaptured some Houthi-held coastal areas to help blunt threats to international shipping, but the peril persists.
Stakes are as high as they can ever be in the Middle East and a minor miscalculation by big players such as the U.S. can leave devastating effects. We are at crossroads once again in a region that is strategic in many respects. With the departure of ISIS (when it finally happens) there should not be a big vacuum left behind for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to fill in Syria and a repeat of what happened when the U.S. forces packed up and left Iraq in 2010. According to the Syrian opposition, by the end of 2016, IRGC and its Quds Force had over 90,000 trained militias fighting in the country, not taking into account tens of thousands of Hezbollah fighters already established in Syria with an expanded operation from Lebanese border all the way to Damascus. It has significantly grown in numbers over the past few years in Syria and no one doubts that they are there to serve the mullahs’ Supreme Leader Khamenei, while no opportunity is missed by Hassan Nasrollah, the groups’ leader, to renew his allegiance to Tehran. He said last year: “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” According to sources, Iran has quadrupled Hezbollah’s annual allowance for 2017.
IRGC spares no one from the tooth-and-nail fight in Syria. “Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, say counterterrorism officials and analysts,” according to a Washington Post report on Sept. 16.
The U.S. and the West in general should learn from their flaws when it comes to dealing with the Iranian regime. Since the early days of the 1979 revolution, Tehran’s rulers are dreaming for a Khilafat or Shiite Crescent, which expands from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The bloody eight-year war with Iraq, according to Khomeini’s failed doctrine, was the first step in realizing his dream of an Islamic State, Shiite-style. Khomeini used to say that Iran would conquer the Shiite holy shrine of Imam Hossein (the third Imam of Shia Islam) in Karbala and then would march to Quds (Jerusalem). Despite Khomeini’s failure to deliver, his heirs never gave up the idea and with the emergence of ISIS and a strong foothold in Iraq, courtesy of Obama administration with its hasty exit from Iraq which left the vacuum for Iran to fill, now IRGC is establishing itself in Syria.
Once again, as in 2010 and Iraq, the window is closing in Syria, and soon, if the U.S. and its allies do not act swiftly in stopping and expelling the IRGC and its proxies from expanding in the lands ISIS is leaving behind, the Iraq scenario might repeat itself. The difference this time however, is that it would have a far greater impact on the geopolitics of the region.
Reza Shafiee (@shafiee_shafiee) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
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