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Iran and the Destruction of Much of Syria
 
 
This article is sourced from Chapter Nine of my book, "Oil and God. Sustainable Energy Will Defeat Wahhabi Terror"
 
  
In 2016, the Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, was reported as saying that Iran has equipped nearly 200,000 young men with arms in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen “in order to face terrorism.”[1]
 
The deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami told the official Iranian news agency, Islamic Republic News Agency, that: “The victory in Aleppo will pave the way for liberating Bahrain,” and further that “the people of Bahrain will achieve their wishes, the Yemeni people will be delighted, and the residents of Mosul will taste victory… these are all divine promises.” [2]
 
 
The March of Shi’ism

Emboldened by gains in Iraq and Syria, the Qom theocrats in Iran have been exploiting the Shi’ite sectarian card to enhance Iran’s regional reach. Being the largest Shi’ite country, the ayatollahs have appointed themselves protectors of Shi’ites everywhere.

 

Former US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, one of the architects of the Iraq misadventure claimed, “The 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime had opened a Pandora’s box of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions.”[3] Khalilzad described a “worst-case scenario in which religious extremists could take over sections of Iraq and begin to expand outward.”[4] Khalilzad’s prophesy came true in 2014 when the so-called Islamic State was born (see Chapter Seven). With Iraq and Syria under control, an overconfident Ayatollah Khamenei launched an aggressive march of Shi’ism crusade against his Sunni neighbors.

 

Iran in Syria

As conditions on the ground for the Assad regime deteriorated between 2011 and early 2013, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force helped create Syria’s National Defense Forces (NDF), a paramilitary organization composed of 100,000 fighters.[5] NDF is funded by Iran, according to Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the commander-in-chief of Iran's own paramilitary force, the Basij.[6]  As it became clear that there were insufficient Syrian forces to fight rebel groups, Iran facilitated the deployment of foreign Shia militias,[7]   starting with Iraqi Shia groups and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (see below: The Roots of the Iran/ Hezbollah Axis).

 

Iran recruited Afghan Shi’ite fighters to form the Zaynabiyoun Brigade.[8] The word  Zaynabiyoun holds a special significance to Shi’ites. It refers to Zaynab, sister of Imam Hussein bin Ali, daughter of the fourth caliph Ali bin abi Talib and his wife Fatima (daughter of the Prophet). Zaynab was with Hussein’s party when the Imam was killed by the forces of the Damascus Umayyad Caliph Yazid bin Mu’awiyah (680-683) in the cataclysmic battle of Karbala on the 10th of the Arabic month of Muharram in 680. Zaynab’s tomb is allegedly located just outside Damascus in the Sayyida Zaynab district. However, Zaynab’s tomb is also allegedly located in Cairo’s Sayyida Zaynab Mosque. For obvious political reasons, the Qom ayatollahs promote Damascus as the real site of Zaynab’s tomb. Under the guise of guarding Zaynab’s mausoleum, Iranians and other Shi’ites protect the Assad regime from collapse (see below: Why Is Iran Wedded to the Assad Regime?).

 

Another brigade, Fatemiyoun, named after the Shi’ite Fatimid caliphate in Cairo (973-1171), is an Afghan Shi’ite militia formed by Iran to protect the Assad regime. According to Colonel Hussain Kenani Moghdam of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the brigade "numbers in the tens of thousands."[9] Iran pays recruits between $500 and $1,000 a month.[10] The families of the killed in action are given Iranian nationality and a financial grant to own a house.

 

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan grew considerably as the US overthrew the Taliban regime following 9/11. For example, while 10% of Afghanistan’s 35 million citizens are Shi’ites, a third of the 2018 Parliamentary seats is occupied by Shi’ites. Also, one of the Afghanistan’s two vice presidents and one of the two deputy prime ministers are Shi’ites.

 

Until April 2016, the number of Iranian paramilitary personnel operating in Syria was estimated at between 6,500 and 9,200. In April 2016, Iran dispatched its special forces to Syria.[11] To Syria’s Sunnis, the presence of Iranian soldiers is particularly provocative, not only because of their Shi’ite sectarianism but also their non-Arab ethnicity.

 

Financially, Iran is heavily invested in Syria. Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, is quoted as saying that Iran spends $6 billion annually on Assad’s government, while some researchers estimate that “Iran spent between $14 and $15 billion in military and economic aid to the Damascus regime in 2012 and 2013.”[12] Additionally, Iranian credit lines and oil sales to Syria have softened and limited the drop in the value of the Syrian Lira in terms of the US dollar.

 

Why Is Iran Wedded to the Assad Regime?

Syria provides Iran with the overland route to supply Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon with weapons. Without Syria, delivering Iranian weapons to Hezbollah would become exceedingly difficult. Without Syria, Hezbollah would be strangled. Hezbollah is of critical strategic importance to Iran. It brings Iran’s borders 1,500 kilo meters closer to Israel. A military confrontation between Israel and Iran will automatically bring Hezbollah into the battle.

 

In capturing Damascus, the Umayyad Caliphate’s capital city, the Shi’ite masses feel jubilant, not only for avenging Imam Hussein’s killing by the Damascus Caliph Yazid but also for redressing the first Muslim civil war in 657 between Yazid’s father, Mu’awiyah (661-680), and Hussein’s father, Ali (656–661). Even today, Shi’ites curse Mu’awihah and Yazid publically.

 

Why Is Iran Anti-Israel?

For the Tehran regime to survive, it must rally Iran’s masses behind a confrontation with a powerful external enemy. If such an enemy does not exist, it must be invented. Conveniently, Israel is the perfect enemy for the Qom ayatollahs from a religious and political point of view. The confrontation with Israel gives the ayatollahs a license to crush the slightest opposition at home for “weakening the morale of the populace in the middle of the confrontation with the Israeli enemy.”

 

As an added benefit, the anti-Israel game ingratiates the ayatollahs with the Palestinian people and Arab masses. Qom’s ayatollahs use anti-Israel rhetoric as a proselytization tool to convert Sunnis to Shi’ism. 

 

The fact that Israel has not threatened Iran’s security does not matter. The ayatollahs have constructed an image of Israel in the Iranian national discourse as if it were Iran’s most dangerous threat, an existential risk. Until the Shah of Iran was deposed by Ayatollah Khomeini, on February 11, 1979, Iran and Israel had cordial relations.

 

Historically, Persia and the Jewish people were not enemies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 noted, “Some 2,500 years ago, the great Persian king Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. He issued a famous edict in which he proclaimed the right of the Jews to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. That’s a Persian decree. And thus began an historic friendship between the Jews and the Persians that lasted until modern times.”[13]

 

To prove their anti-Israel credentials, the ayatollahs built Hezbollah on Israel’s borders in order to unleash it whenever it becomes politically convenient. This happened on July 12, 2006. “Hezbollah guerillas crossed into Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others, precipitating a war with Israel.”[14] The war ended on August 14, 2006.[15] Israel’s losses were surprisingly high.[16]

 

There could have been a connection between the 2006 war and the P5+1 nuclear deal negotiations with Iran. The discussions were tough. On April 11, 2006, Iran announced that it has enriched uranium for the first time to about 3.5 percent at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant.[17] The 2006 war was a demonstration to Western powers and Israel of the shape of things to come if they were tempted to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.

 

The Roots of the Iran/ Hezbollah Axis

A close religious connection has existed between Iran and the Shi’ites of Lebanon for the past five centuries. To add religious fervor into Persia’s wars against the Sunni Ottoman Empire, Shah Ismail (1501-1524) made Shi’ism the state religion of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1737) instead of Sunnism. Lacking the necessary clerics to effect the conversion, Shi’ite scholars from southern Lebanon’s Mount Amel were imported to establish schools and train Persian clerics in Shi’ite laws, rituals, and way of life. Ever since that time, a bridge between Iran and Lebanon has flourished.


For centuries, Lebanon’s Shi’ite population was discriminated against. Their fortunes began to improve in 1959 with the arrival of Musa al-Sadr to the coastal city of Tyre. Al-Sadr was an Iranian-born Lebanese Shiite cleric, son of a long line of distinguished Shi’ite scholars. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Sadr’s ancestors escaped Ottoman mistreatment from Tyre and moved to Iraq’s holy city of Najaf, and then to Iran. 

 

For the Shiites of Lebanon, Musa al-Sadr awakened a sense of dignity and self-worth previously unknown. He replaced their innate self-pity, sorrow, and submission with a fiery spirit of hope, defiance, and revolution. In 1974, he formed the Movement of the Disinherited, a political movement aimed at social justice. In 1975, the Amal movement was formed as the militia wing of the Movement of the Disinherited.

 

In 1982, after Sadr’s suspicious disappearance in 1978, while on a visit to Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, the momentum of his work gave rise to Hezbollah, a trained, organized militia, funded by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards. In 2016, Hezbollah had about 21,000 active duty fighters and 24,000 reservists, with a stockpile of around 130,000 rockets of different types and ranges (up to 400 kilometers), hundreds of drones, and thousands of anti-tank missiles.[18]

 

Hezbollah is the only body of Shi’ites outside Iran that pledges allegiance to the Iranian faqih. Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem’s was quoted as saying in August 2011 that, “Wilayat al-faqih is the reason for Hezbollah’s establishment.”[19] On October 8, 1997, the United States designated Hezbollah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

 

Hezbollah in Syria

According to the US Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations Report (2016), there are about 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria.[20] According to Newsweek magazine, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria between 2011 and 2016 cost the terrorist organization some 2,000 to 2,500 killed, and some 7,000 injured.[21]

 

Hezbollah’s fighters proved to be more capable than the Syrian army, and their involvement in Syria provided them with serious battlefield experience. Hezbollah’s intervention has taken four principal forms: training for regular Syrian forces and irregular Syrian and foreign militia forces, combat advisory roles, combat participation, and a separate and more focused effort to build up capability to strike Israel from southern Syria.[22] Hezbollah may be described today as Iran’s weapon of mass destruction on Israel’s border with Lebanon.

 
 


[1] “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards: We Have Armed 200,000 Fighters in the Region,” Middle East Monitor.

[2]Iran: After Aleppo, We Will Intervene in Bahrain, Yemen,” Al Arabiya, December 16, 2016,

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2016/12/16/Iran-s-Revolutionary-Guard-After-Aleppo-we-will-intervene-in-Bahrain-and-Yemen.html

[3] Borzou Daragahi, “Envoy to Iraq Sees Threat of Wider War,” Los Angeles Times, (March 7, 2006).

http://articles.latimes.com/2006/mar/07/world/fg-envoy7

[4] Ibid.

[5] Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict, P.4.

[6] Hossein Bastani, Iran Quietly Deepens Involvement in Syria's War,” BBC, (October 20, 2015),

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34572756

[7] Ibid.

[8] Philip Smyth, “Iran's Afghan Shiite Fighters in Syria,” The Washington Institute, (June 3, 2014),

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/irans-afghan-shiite-fighters-in-syria

[9] Hashmatallah Moslih, “Iran 'Foreign Legion' Leans on Afghan Shia in Syria War,”Al Jazeera, (January 22, 2016).

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/iran-foreign-legion-leans-afghan-shia-syria-war-160122130355206.html

[10] Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict,J(e Times of Israel, s-donationsch 2017) ebted and grateful to Mama Merkel"isons. f the Prophet Muhammad. Fatima is sister of Im P. 4.

[11] Ibid, P.5

[12] Shahir ShahidSaless, “Iran’s Plan to Confront a Post-Assad Era,” Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shahir-shahidsaless/irans-plan-to-confront-a_b_8510186.html

[13]Full Text of Netanyahu’s 2013 Speech to the UN General Assembly,” The Times of Israel, (November 21, 2013).

https://www.timesofisrael.com/full-text-netanyahus-2013-speech-to-the-un-general-assembly/

[14] From the US Department of State statement on Dec. 1, 2011, “What Was the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War?,” ProCon.org. (February 22, 2012).

https://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000981

[15] Ibid.

[16] Alistair Crooke and Mark Perry, “How Hezbollah Defeated Israel,” Counterpunch, (October 13, 2006).

https://www.counterpunch.org/2006/10/13/how-hezbollah-defeated-israel-2/

[17]Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran,” Arms Control Association.

https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran

[18] “Hezbollah, “From Terror Group to Army,” Haaretz, (December 7, 2016).

[19]Hezbollah MP Credits Wilayat al Fakih for Saving Lebanon,” YALIBNAN, (November 2, 2014).

http://yalibnan.com/2014/11/02/hezbollah-mp-credits-wilayat-al-fakih-saving-lebanon/

[20] US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” (2016).

https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2016/272238.htm

[21] Mona Alami, “Will Hezbollah Remain in Syria Forever?,” Newsweek, (March 28, 2017).

http://www.newsweek.com/will-hezbollah-remain-syria-forever-573818

[22] Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict.