There was a rumor ahead of the ‘tripartite’ (American, British and French) bombing of Syria that the Assad regime and the Russian government had offered the withdrawal of Iran and its militias from Syria as part of a suggested resolution, in exchange for the trio refraining from the attack and engaging in a new political exercise.
If we assume that such an offer was really on the table, would it have been acceptable? It is definitely better than a limited strike, but the problem is that the three parties involved in Syria are accustomed to promoting lies. Even the Russians lost their credibility as a result of their support for the allegations of Damascus and Tehran. After the chemical attack in Douma, they repeated the same old story that the opposition attacked itself and that the United Nations should inspect on the ground, with the aim of wasting time and diluting the problem.
The ‘axis of evil’, which lacks credibility, cannot be trusted with solutions or political resolutions. The Syrian regime escaped military sanctions in September 2013, when the Russians suggested that it delivered its stock of chemical weapons to UN inspectors. The stock was then removed from Syria, and the regime claimed that it was everything in its possession. Now we know, however, that it was hiding more.
The most dangerous part of this forgery is that this regime acts without any consideration of the consequences. This shows Assad has not changed, even though the world had wrongly assumed he might do so after the civil war. It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
The role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ‘Generals’ has been important in this war, as they have assumed the command in many of the battles throughout Syria over the past three years, and their reputation has preceded them in terms of carrying out horrible revenge massacres along with other pro-Iran militias.
Well, let us talk now about the coming days, since the military action by three Western powers is over, and they believe the job has been done, even though it does not seem to have adversely affected the strength of the regime or its forces. American President Donald Trump wanted to convey a message to prove that he means what he says, and the message was well received.
But what happens next? We are facing two interlocking issues: The expected US sanctions against Iran, which is a battle that is yet to begin; and the desire to put an end to the civil war in Syria with a peaceful resolution. The latter can be done either by reaching an agreement with the regime or by creating a new status quo through protected military zones, like the American plan for establishing a region in eastern Syria for monitoring and launching attacks against Daesh and others when needed.
American sanctions against Iran will definitely weaken the regime in Tehran and create an environment more favourable for finding a solution in Syria, while loosening Iran’s grip on Iraq and Lebanon. Without further sanctions, Iran will continue creating trouble in the region. Indeed, there is hope that Syria may prove to be the Iranian religious regime’s Achilles’ heel, as it boasts of being invincible there. The signs of this excessive confidence are reflected in how Iran has turned Syria into a battlefront against the Kurds and Israel, and a base for its threats against the stability of Lebanon and Iraq. According to the Iranian plan, Syria is the key base for its militias, which will be used by the IRGC as a launch pad against its neighbors.
Can we ever believe that the Syrian regime in Damascus would be able to eject the IRGC and Iran’s militias from Syria? It is too difficult to believe. The current chaos ensures that Syria remains a source of trouble, which is perfectly suitable for Iran and Russia to exploit as they look to add more cards, and become key players in the region through starting fires and extinguishing them.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed