Is the US staying in Syria for ISIS or to stand against Iran? Has it learned from history?

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By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai

In 2014, the US led a coalition of 59 countries to contain the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group’s expansion but not to eliminate it. For almost a year, and in contrast to Russia, this coalition carried out limited air attacks against the terrorist group without crippling its main source of existence: finance. Obama’s policy was well-defined: we are not in a hurry to defeat ISIS because the group is serving the US national interest, and has become a burden on Iran. Today, Donald Trump is following Obama’s footsteps on this issue, revealing that his troops will stay in Syria because of Iran- apparently forgetting that Syria is not the US’s comfort zone or friendly terrain but is Iran’s backyard. Trump’s attempt, after only 12 days in office, to modify or suspend the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran was one pawn to move in a chess game whose intention is to blur and fudge the issue as perceived by the international community and the American people. The US’s determined intention to occupy new territory in the Middle East (almost 15 years after the disastrous occupation of Iraq) is apparently not for public consumption.

But how could the US imagine that this is a realistic goal?

When Barak Obama declared war on ISIS, his forces considered that interrupting the terrorist group’s main source of finance was not a priority. ISIS enjoyed over $1.5 m a day of undisturbed black gold income from the illegal extraction of oil from the many oil fields in Syria and Iraq. Obama’s establishment wanted the world to believe that the concern was all about avoiding environmental damage, an unlikely reason for the 59 nation US-led coalition to refrain from crippling the main financial sources for a terrorist organisation. The precedence given to this concern gave it more importance than stopping the destruction, danger and suffering ISIS was causing throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and, indeed, in nearby Europe. Israel was much more straightforward than the US, stating the real reason behind the US’s avoidance of weakening the terrorist group: “We prefer ISIS to Iran”, said its Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Iran was fully engaged in Syria, providing oil (most Syrian energy was in the first five years of war in the hands of ISIS, al-Qaeda and their allies), finance (paying government employees and Army salaries), medical assistance (creating a pharmaceutical industry to replace the one destroyed by the war), and weapons (Iranian manufactured weapons and bought from Russia on behalf of Damascus).

Iran also provided 12,000 men from its own Special Forces within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iraqi allies (Asaeb Ahl al-Haq, Harakat al-Nujaba’, and more), plus Pakistanis and Afghans living in Iran who were part of the IRGC allied corps. Moreover, Lebanese Hezbollah poured thousands of fighters onto the battlefield to support Damascus’s forces. The number of these fighters fluctuated according to the needs and the development of this war being fought on multiple fronts.

Iran offered ground troops, along with the Syrian Army, to the Russian Air Force, aiming through this combination and through military coordination to change the course of the war in the Levant in favour of Damascus’s government. The Iranian-Russian intervention managed to stop the ‘regime change’ –long advocated by some of the countries of the region, the EU and the US, even at the cost of the fall of the multi-ethnic secular Syrian system, and its replacement by the intolerant Islamic radicals and radicalised fighters naturally dominating all other groups. This is what the world witnessed and acknowledged happening throughout the six years of war in Syria. However, the US Secretary of State John Kerry described these extremists (ISIS and al-Qaeda) as “the best fighters”.

 

Kerry went even further, revealing that many countries in the Middle East (he named Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel) prior to 2015, had asked him to bomb Iran, a sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia and the US. Iran became THE enemy in Syria whilst the Israelis learned to live with ISIS, its new neighbour, and considered to be a much easier neighbour than Hezbollah and Iran. Also, Saudi Arabia was and still is willing to invest in and support any country or groups ready to oppose the Shia expansion facilitated by Iran and its Islamic Republic since it saw the light in 1979. Donald Trump saw the opportunity: in exchange for billions of dollars, he was ready to trample precious values underfoot and align himself with Wahhabi Takfiri and their promoters. The US president hoped to boost his country’s economy and at the same time bring Iran to its knees, a long-term heartfelt dream of the US.

 

US-Iran history:

The US’s attempt to impose its control and dominance over Iran goes back to 1953. The US National Security Council has released a document confirming the use of the CIA’s extensive resources and its role in the 1953 ‘successful coup’ operation code name TPAJAX. The US overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, changing the historical trajectory of Iran.

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The US president Dwight Eisenhower is the one who sanctioned the coup and installed “an American puppet who owed his throne to his ability to please his foreign sponsors” as described by John Limbert (“Negotiating With Iran”, 2009):the young Shah Reza Pahlavi. The US became the new colonial master (replacing the UK) and humiliated the Iranians by ruling the country through the Shah. Mosaddeq went, but the issue remained. The UK – who regarded the Iranians as “inefficient and incompetent inferior human beings” – supported the coup because they were afraid of Mosaddeq’s nationalism, the abolition of the monarchy, and the decision to end British manipulation of Iranian politics and wealth – and they feared the nationalisation of Iranian oil.

Eisenhower introduced a program called “Atoms for Peace” to help Iran set up a nuclear program, and sold Iran a five-megawatt nuclear reactor in 1967 following the advice of his establishment. Among these were Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney who played effective roles in convincing the Shah to go nuclear and buy eight nuclear reactors. Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan (the head of the first revolutionary government) immediately halted and cancelled the US deal. Here we see that it was the US itself who launched Iran on the Nuclear path. Many of the problems the US causes in the world are due to its unacknowledged reversals.

 

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The US appointed the Shah of Iran “royal dictator” – with the complicity of western governments (the United States and Israel played a special role, according to Prof Richard Cottam). He was responsible for the “terrible violations of the most elementary human rights” (the September 1978 Black Friday and the SAVAK’s role are but a few examples). But in truth western “morals and values” have never been the confirmed motivation for the US to stand against a state. They have always been used to justify regime change when it suited them. The US, if we are dealing only with the Iranian question, repeated its lack of morality throughout the history of Iran from early 1953 to date.

The 1979 Iranian revolutionary removed the authoritarian Shah, cancelled all military treaties with the US, openly declared antipathy and hostility towards America, and held US diplomats prisoner. President Jimmy Carter ordered Iranian assets in US banks frozen and announced sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

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Since 1979 every single US president retained and even increased sanctions against Iran (1979, 1980, 1987, 1995, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2017, 2018): mainly because the Iranian leaders continued to reject American influence and its dominance over their country and its policies. The US and its allies certainly didn’t care much about the population’s freedom or even “western values” when they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. They offered chemical weapons to the dictator, to be used against Iran and against Saddam’s own people in the north of Iraq. The world watched in silence.

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Their aim has been, and apparently always will be, to cripple the Iranian economy and submit the country to the US’s will; they appear to hope that the population will react against the Islamic Republic and that its wealth will fall, once more, into western hands.

Over the years, after the Iran-Iraq war ended, Iran has repeatedly challenged the US and its allies, registering one victory after another. In Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Yemen, Iran is not losing; it is creating more ideological allies ready to stand against the US influence in the Middle East. The Iranian goal is not to create proxies – as researchers like to label them – but partners who believe in the support of the oppressed (Mustath’afeen) against the oppressor: put succinctly, to limit US dominance over the Middle East.

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The US believes Iran is humiliating it by detaining its sailors (even if the 10 sailors were released hours later with embarrassing photos portraying US weakness and submission), challenging its power when it imprisoned a US-Iranian citizen and only released him following an exchange, and refusing to submit to US primacy and dominance.  On the Iranian side, the Islamic Republic believes the US wants to humiliate and dominate the country’s population and take its resources, and change the current regime system by bringing to power a US puppet. Tehran considers that the objective of any US establishment is to dominate the Middle East, drain its wealth, support sectarian wars, be able to sell weapons, and keep the Arab states in a state of submissive weakness. Indeed, the opposite of uniting and forming a truly powerful continent sitting on gigantic energy resources.

Donald Trump and Iran:

There is a widespread belief that Donald Trump is not really aiming to cancel or alter the Iran nuclear deal as he claims. Trump is continuously postponing his decision, month after month (his last ultimatum to Iran runs for another four months), for reasons which actually seem quite plausible:

  1. To divert the world’s attention from the US forces’ occupation of Syria
  2. To blur the fact that the US forces are protecting an extensive territory still under ISIS, unwilling to defeat the group anytime soon, probably in the hope that this will serve the US foreign policy agenda in the future.
  3. To continue blackmailing Saudi Arabia by showing he is aggressive towards Iran: in reality he is only stirring up a storm in a teacup, every now and then.
  4. To serve the interests of Israel, the US’s main ally, and enjoy the support of the Israeli lobby in the US, for Trump’s re-election, for example.
  5. To avoid Europe distancing itself from the US and ending the partnership.

Grand Ayatollah Khamenei considers Trump’s continuous threat to Iran as an incentive to keep the Islamic Republic stronger than ever. Sayyed Ali Khamenei advised top Iranian leaders to consider China as an example of self-sufficiency and to move away from the US. Nevertheless, the pragmatic government led by President Hassan Rohani insisted in opening up to the west and adhered to its nuclear obligations.

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Rohani, following the nuclear deal agreement with the five UN permanent members and Germany, invited the Iranian people to open up to the west and increase trade exchange with the world. The Iranian president was apparently unaware that the US, by advocating to breach the deal, is uninterested in a partnership basis, and therefore is indeed curbing the Iranian pragmatists, seeking to topple their government – which will benefit the hardliners.

The bras-de-fer between the US establishment and the Iranian government over the nuclear deal will not diminish the Iranian influence and that of its partners in the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Moreover, it certainly won’t allow the US to exert any influence or dominance over Iran, regardless of the political ‘colour’ of the government in Tehran.

Iran will not re-negotiate the nuclear deal and relies on Europe to stand firm, confirming its signature and commitment. Europe is in need of Iran because the Islamic Republic is part of the continent’s national security and an advanced guard against terrorism. Europe has had enough of wars and appreciates today, after six years of war, that the Islamic Republic stood firm to protect the regime in Iraq, rushed to help Baghdad when the US stood by, watching ISIS expanding, and prevented a regime change in Syria which would have benefitted radical extremists. These Iranians and their allies are the partners Europe is looking for, ready to stand back from the US, that faraway continent that is less vulnerable than nearby Europe to terrorism and terrorists.

But Iran can’t compete with the US mainstream media, largely dominating the world’s opinion. The western media portray Iran as an interventionist country and attack Iran, and any other Middle Eastern countries, on ‘human rights violations”. It is correct to say that the Middle Eastern values and approaches to human rights are far from ideal. However, no single country in the world (or even dozens of countries united in coalition) can compete with the US responsibility for such a huge mess in its foreign policy affairs, regime change, violation of human rights, and the killing of innocents: a topic very much underplayed by the media. The American establishment values are today at a low level: what counts is the amount of money it can generate from wealthy countries, regardless of their history in violating human rights or in exporting terrorism and hate speech.

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The Iranian regime is designated as an exporter of the revolution and accused of financing proxies in the Middle East. But Iran never denied its religious goal to stand by the oppressed, and therefore to arm and train groups to expel the US forces from the Middle East. The question is: can Iran compete with the billions of dollars’ worth of US arms selling in the Middle East? Or with the US’s illegal occupation of sovereign territories (Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to name but a few) – plus the training of militants, including Syrian jihadist Takfiris responsible for many attacks in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the US itself?

Iran is well established in Syria: it is too late to alter the results of the war in Syria or to curb the many groups of Syrian resistants who – as a consequence of war and a failed regime change – already operate in the Levant no matter what the US will do or say and regardless of how long and wherever its forces will be based in Syria. The US occupation – contrary to US Secretary of State Tillerson’s statement–is strongly expected to be another US failure with no sign of having learnt from history. In any case, the road between Tehran – Baghdad – Damascus – Beirut is safely established and does not traverse the US occupied provinces in north-east Syria.

Of course, the US forces based in al-Tanaf and al-Hasaka can try to blackmail the Syrian government during the expected peace-talks, and perhaps count the trucks travelling on the Tehran-Beirut line and keep an eye on the ground traffic, but for what purpose? Can Donald Trump answer the question: how on earth can the US and its allies benefit from a US occupation of another territory in the Middle East? It can only create more havoc and damage once more its prestigious position as a superpower, constantly to be defeated by Iran and its non-state actor-partners.

13 thoughts on “Is the US staying in Syria for ISIS or to stand against Iran? Has it learned from history?

    1. This has been a fantastic series of articles. The author has done a thorough job of explaining which forces are hoping the Afrin Kurds are crushed and which forces have stood aside to let this happen. I am curious if there are any major forces who will be backing the Afrin Kurds, either for their own sake or to inconvenience Turkey.
      Many thanks for the invaluable insight and to add a personal note, I would love to hear the author once more on The War Nerd podcast with Mark Ames; that one hour show was spectacularly informative.

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