(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/03/Syrian_dictator_al-Assad.jpg)The month of March highlights the period when some Syrian schoolboys wrote their demands for freedom and justice on a wall in southern city of Deraa four years ago. This was the beginning of an uprising which led to a vicious civil war.
The Syrian police and _mukhabart_ (the Syrian intelligence) responded to initial protesters by the mass arrests and torturing of the young boys. Syrian people who were inspired by the other popular uprisings across the Arab world, went to the streets calling for the release of political prisoners and for political reforms.
The major question to ask is how demands for an end to corruption led to this bloody civil war. Why was Bashar al Assad not overthrown in a short period as his counterparts in other part of the Arab world (including Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Qadaffi, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali)?
Currently, more than 200,000 people have been killed and approximately 1 million wounded inside the country. An estimated 9 million Syrian people (roughly 45%) have fled their homes, so far. If we make an analogy, this would be the equivalent of 140 million Americans having fled their homes. More than 3 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq). An estimated of one-third of the population is displaced internally requiring urgent and basic humanitarian assistance such as food, water, medical support, and shelter.
Schools, hospitals, historical sites, and cities have been destroyed. The lost generation of Syrian children, who were supposed to be the next leaders of their country dreaming to be doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, and nurses, are growing up without experiencing sitting in classrooms or any school education.
Although many factors have played a crucial role in the ongoing war, one country in particular played a key role in keeping Assad in power: the Islamic Republic of Iran. In addition, the weakness of the Obama administration and its soft stance on Iran facilitated Iran’s activities and infiltration in Syria. This went to an extent that Iran’s Quds force leader, Qassem Soleimani, began bragging by posting pictures of himself in other countries on the battlefield.
The ruling clerics of Iran utilized several mechanisms to ensure Assad’s throne. First of all, they sent military and political advisor to Damascus. As Syrian forces proved to be insufficient in the fight against the oppositional and rebel groups, the Islamic Republic did not hesitate to send thousands of its trained officers from the Quds Forces – a wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps operating in foreign countries – in order to back Assad.
The deployment of its own national forces was not sufficient for the ruling clerics. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the senior cadre of IRGC, were still determined to keep their vow and prevent Assad from losing the throne. IRGC officers turned to other regional powerful Shiite groups such as Hezbollah to join the conflict. Hezbollah fighters were now on the frontline of battle.
Iran began recruiting fighters from other countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, to create a frontline near the Israeli border, taking control over the Syrian forces. As Israeli General Israel Ziv pointed out, “Iran is taking over the reins in Syria….In fact, no military decision [in Syria] is made without [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard].” He added that Assad became “a puppet looking out at his lost land.”
The conflict faced another important aspect: the sectarian issues fueling the war. Tehran began investing in paramilitary fighters in Syria which are also known as the National Defense Forces. As the death toll, wounded, the need for urgent humanitarian assistance, and number of people fleeing their homes skyrocketed, the Islamic Republic still saw no need to alter its foreign policy of supporting Assad.
In fact, in order to prevent the economic collapse of the Syrian regime, billions of dollars in credit and oil began pouring into the Syrian government. Iran’s military, economic, political, advisory, and intelligence support of Assad became indisputable.
Iran drew a red line: any party fighting with Assad became an enemy of the Islamic Republic. The Syrian security, military, and intelligence infrastructure soon was fully under the control of the Iranian government.
If it was not for Iran’s staunch economic, military, advisory, and intelligence support, Assad would have faced the same destiny that much more stronger Arab leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya encountered. And if Assad did not have the help of the Iranian leaders, the initial uprising would not have led to the current vicious circle of the civil war, and to the rise of radicalism, militarization and Islamist groups such as Jubhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State. It is accurate to point out that other regional countries played a role as well. Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic’s role is much more pivotal, robust, decisive, definitive, and contributory in the emergence of the civil war and its continuation.
Nevertheless, we should not ignore the fact that what made Iran’s operations in Syria smoother was the weak leadership of President Obama. As President Obama is determined to seal a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic and prove his Middle Eastern accomplishment and legacy, he has decided to overlook the ruling cleric’s infiltration in the Syrian conflict or any other country in the region. With the acquiescence of President Obama, Iran will continue to arm and fund the Syrian regime and other paramilitary groups. Hence, the civil war and death toll will continue to rise for a time to come.
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