Forbes, April 13, 2018 - The world is weighing a possible United States-led air/missile strike against the interests of Syria’s Bashar Assad and his main ally, Iran. These developments are certain to inflict a heavy toll on the Iranian regime’s interests in the region and back home, leaving it the main party to suffer in any outcome.
Following Assad’s 2017 chemical attack against Khan Sheikhoon, Trump ordered a strike on the base he said Syrian warplanes involved in the attack were deployed from. 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean struck major damage to landing strips and bunkers in the Al Shayrat airbase.
That episode was merely a symbolic attack. What is unfolding now has the potential of being far more comprehensive. And what makes it completely interesting is the fact that Iran stands to lose the most after maintaining Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in power for seven years .
In an interview with Fox News, General Anthony Tata, former U.S. commander in Afghanistan said it is clear this Syria attack will be far more significant than last year's, adding this campaign may take some time.
And time is not on Iran’s side, knowing the more resources the U.S. and its allies have deployed in the region, the higher the price Tehran, Damascus, Moscow and their allies will have to pay.
Certain is the fact that the approach Trump is adopting significantly contrasts how Obama handled the Middle East dossier, going back on his own red line.
France and the United Kingdom, along with Saudi Arabia, are on board, as there is no longer any question about the horrific nature of the recent chemical attack targeting innocent civilians in Douma.
The U.S. has a naval combat group stationed in the east of the Mediterranean, with another on its way, both equipped with a high-number of long-range missiles. Numerous warplanes are also stationed in Qatar, parallel to others available on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.
Since Assad has most likely bunkered his air force or transferred them to a safe haven, such as Iran, this multi-national assault will possibly target a significant number of Syria’s air bases and/or whatever else is left of Assad’s air forces. Crippling his ability to target civilian populations is a moral necessity.
Syrian opposition activists are reporting dozens of Lebanese Hezbollah members of the Rezvan battalion fled Homs Province along with their families and arrived at the city of Yabrud, south of Damascus. They completely evacuated the T-4 airbase after the recent attack.
Attacking from the west would be more convenient and involving far lesser factors to calculate. All the while Paris’ warplanes can take off from their bases in France and attack targets in Syria. With the UK joining this effort, British submarines are stationed in the east Mediterranean and launching precision strikes against Assad’s bases. This goes alongside the British base in Cyprus.
All the while during the past few days reports indicate Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, returned to Iraq from Syria on Wednesday. 12 senior IRGC Quds Force commanders left the Al Kesve base, south of Damascus, and flew in a passenger plane to Najaf, Iraq.
If Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani was with this group is not clear. A source in Najaf has told Ava Today, “The passengers leaving Damascus for Najaf left the latter city for Baghdad under extremely tight security measures.”
In another flight, at 8:09pm Wednesday local time, 35 senior IRGC Quds Force officers allegedly left Damascus for Baghdad.
Their precautions are understandable as sources in Washington are talking with reports saying U.S. measures will be punishing and significantly weakening Assad’s airpower, or completely destroying it. These air and missile attacks will be limited to Syria and IRGC Quds Force positions may also be on the target list.
In the past week, Syria has transferred 23 of its passenger and warplanes to Iran, reports show. Velayati has time and again told Syrian media Tehran provides $8 billion/year to Damascus. IRGC provides for the “Syria Basij,” established by Iran in 2012 to maintain Assad in power.
With the expense of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Quds Force, the Afghan Fatemioun and Pakistani Zeynabioun, all provided by Iran, the colossal costs reach $4bn/year. Add this to the $8bn/year mentioned by Velayati, the total reaches around $12bn/year. This has been ongoing for the past 7 years, meaning at least $84 billion of the Iranian people’s money have gone wasted in Syria. All extending the suffering of millions of people throughout the region.
This massive investment is on the verge of being destroyed through highly possible US-led attacks. The money Iran’s regime wasted in Syria could have been used to provide for the millions currently living in poverty.
Current circumstances have reached the point that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Wednesday the Assad regime must be ousted. Speaking to reporters following the chemical attack in Syria, Çavuşoğlu stressed the need to transition toward a “political process.”
To add insult to injury on Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Washington’s possible intention of imposing “very strong” sanctions on Iran, adding “primary and secondary sanctions” are on their way against Tehran. This is in reference to penalties against Tehran and entities involved in doing business with the regime.
The European Union is also showing further signs of alignment with the U.S., extending for another 12 months sanctions on 82 individuals and one entity in Iran over human rights violations. E.U. sanctions will maintain the assets of these 82 individuals frozen, parallel to a travel ban. All exports of surveillance and communications control equipment to Iran will also be banned.
Trump has yet to order the attack and yet we are already witnessing developments playing out against Iran’s interests. And with only one month left to the Iran nuclear deadline, the road promises to be excruciating for Tehran and each development is of colossal stakes .
I am a political/rights activist focusing on Iran & the Middle East. I also write in Al Arabiya English, and contributed to The Federalist, The Hill and Raddington Report. I tweet @HeshmatAlavi