In Syria, Iran Sees Necessary War

Six years into the crisis in Syria, Iran sees the outcome of the conflict as shaping the new Middle East. It was Iran’s first overt foreign intervention in decades, one that some Iranian ideologues have called a war for existence.

by Ali Hashem 

Iranian officials say it spared the Islamic Republic from having to fight a similar war within its own borders. Yet it has been costly, draining and merciless in terms of material losses, and even worse when it comes to Iran’s image in the Muslim world. It has limited Iran’s options and has caused alliances — notwithstanding the common ground Iran shares with its partners — to seem very shaky and fragile.

“Iran learned a lot from these years,” an Iranian military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The source said the conflict in Syria has not been a traditional war where things can easily be anticipated: “The mandate was changing from one day to another. When Iran decided to take part in the war via our military advisers, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was on the verge of falling. More than 70% of the country was under [the control of] terrorist groups who were enjoying widespread international, regional states’ and popular support. Today, President Assad has the upper hand, and the world knows well that he’s the only choice for those who seriously want to defeat terrorism. Yet this is not the final phase.”

In Tehran, political and military elites believe enemies of the “resistance axis” created the crisis in Syria to take revenge for what Iranian elites see as the latter’s achievements and widespread popularity in the region. “It’s obvious that after the 33-day war in Lebanon and Hezbollah’s victory over Israel [in 2006], the Americans and their local agents started thinking of how to defeat us,” an Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The official said, “Since they can’t wage a war on Iran and their attempt to destroy Hezbollah failed, there was only one option at that time left — hitting the heart: Syria.” Therefore, according to the Iranian official, the Islamic Republic had no choice but to defend itself, and therefore, “Iran’s struggle in Syria is different from others: It’s an existential war with no choice for us but to win. All the other parties fighting in Syria can afford to win or lose, save Iran. Not winning this war will have dire consequences not only for Iran but for the Shiites of the world. Therefore, it was the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who took the decision to help Syria. It was both a religious and a political decision.”

The story of the Iranian decision to intervene in Syria has been a question for many, mainly with regard to how the decision was taken and whether a plan was in place from day one. Filling out the picture is the account of former Iranian member of parliament Esmail Kowsari — a former commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — who told the semi-official Fars News Agency in November 2013 how Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had gone to Ayatollah Khamenei with fears that Assad would be toppled. Kowsari said that Nasrallah, nine months after the Syrian war started, had concluded that the situation was bad and was almost over. Nasrallah was quoted as saying, “Along with some officials, we went to the [supreme] leader and told him our thoughts. After we finished speaking, he said: ‘No, that is not the case. We must just do our duty. If we do our duty, Assad and Syria will be stable.’”

The Iranian military source confirmed this account to Al-Monitor, adding, “When Nasrallah returned to Beirut, he met the [Hezbollah] Shura Council and told it about the [supreme] leader’s point of view; he asked them to prepare their plans. At the same time, Ayatollah Khamenei started meeting the leadership of the IRGC and asked it to put together their views and road map for how this conflict could end.” The Iranian source elaborated that Khamenei had two main concerns: preserving the weapons pipeline to Lebanon and keeping the holy shrines in Syria safe. The source said the two main leaders chosen to ensure that these objectives were met were Nasrallah and IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

A third man with a key role to play was IRGC Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who was killed in Syria in October 2015. Hamedani’s role was essential in leading the forces on the ground. He left behind a full account of what happened on the way to Syria. The book, titled “Letters of the Fish,” focuses on Hamedani’s life. He recalls surprise at his being asked to go to Syria and how he met with many figures and visited several areas. He said 75% of the country “was under the control of the terrorist groups.” He added, “After some time, I sent a detailed report to the supreme leader, asking him to allow me to return to Iran, given that the Syrians weren’t making use of our presence. The leader told Hajj Qasem [Soleimani]: ‘You shouldn’t leave and return! Syria is sick, but doesn’t know it is sick; this disease should be explained to Syrian politicians and statesmen.’”

Hamedani also sent a report to the leadership of the IRGC. That report was later read by Ayatollah Khamenei, who asked Hamedani to consult with Nasrallah, who — according to the book — was “in charge of all the policies of the resistance axis in Syria.” Hamedani had more than 100 proposals for steps to be implemented, along with five main suggestions on the political, economic, cultural, military and security fronts. Since Nasrallah was the man in charge of Syria, Hamedani and his aides went to meet him in Beirut, with the discussions lasting “from the evening prayer until the morning prayer.” The book says the Hezbollah chief saw no need for political, cultural and economic steps at that time, saying, “Bashar Assad and the Baath Party are drowning to their necks in a quagmire. Nothing is left until they completely drown.” Hamedani then quotes Nasrallah as saying, “On the cultural side, do you want to teach them how to pray? Set up classes and teach them? Discuss spirituality with them? The time isn’t right; they are drowning! On the economic side, you want to sew clothes for them? You want to give them food? Those people need no food; they are vanishing. On the political front, you want to discuss the correct structure for the regime and reform it? They are losing everything!” Nasrallah concluded, “First we have to get Bashar and the Syrian government outside the quagmire; then, we’ll clean them, give them clothes, feed them, ask them to study and do their prayers. Now is the time to get them out [of the quagmire], and this is the strategic move.”

Hamedani’s account along with other ones by various Iranian commanders tell a lot about the Syrian war and about how and why Iran is keen to fight to the last man standing. Today, just as when Iran decided to enter Syria, the Islamic Republic continues to believe that compromising Damascus is akin to giving up Tehran — and that whatever the price of the war, it will never exceed the cost of losing it.

Photo: Lebanese sit in front of giant posters bearing portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah (L), the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (R) and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (C), in the southern town of Kfour, Lebanon, March 1, 2016. (photo by MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)

2 thoughts on “In Syria, Iran Sees Necessary War”

  1. The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow

    The Kagan family, America’s neoconservative aristocracy, has reemerged having recovered from the letdown over not gaining its expected influence from the election of Hillary Clinton and from its loss of official power at the start of the Trump presidency.

    Former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who pushed for the Ukraine coup and helped pick the post-coup leaders. (She is the wife of neocon theorist Robert Kagan.)

    Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump.

    A Family Business

    As I noted two years ago in an article entitled “A Family Business of Perpetual War”: “Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.

    Prominent neocon intellectual Robert Kagan. (Photo credit: Mariusz Kubik,

    “This extraordinary husband-and-wife duo makes quite a one-two punch for the Military-Industrial Complex, an inside-outside team that creates the need for more military spending, applies political pressure to ensure higher appropriations, and watches as thankful weapons manufacturers lavish grants on like-minded hawkish Washington think tanks.

    “Not only does the broader community of neoconservatives stand to benefit but so do other members of the Kagan clan, including Robert’s brother Frederick at the American Enterprise Institute and his wife Kimberly, who runs her own shop called the Institute for the Study of War.”

    On Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, Robert Kagan’s brother Frederick and his wife Kimberly dropped the other shoe, laying out the neocons’ long-held dream of a full-scale U.S. invasion of Syria, a project that was put on hold in 2004 because of U.S. military reversals in Iraq.

    But the neocons have long lusted for “regime change” in Syria and were not satisfied with Obama’s arming of anti-government rebels and the limited infiltration of U.S. Special Forces into northern Syria to assist in the retaking of the Islamic State’s “capital” of Raqqa.

    In the Journal op-ed, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan call for opening a new military front in southeastern Syria:

    “American military forces will be necessary. But the U.S. can recruit new Sunni Arab partners by fighting alongside them in their land. The goal in the beginning must be against ISIS because it controls the last areas in Syria where the U.S. can reasonably hope to find Sunni allies not yet under the influence of al Qaeda. But the aim after evicting ISIS must be to raise a Sunni Arab army that can ultimately defeat al Qaeda and help negotiate a settlement of the war.

    “The U.S. will have to pressure the Assad regime, Iran and Russia to end the conflict on terms that the Sunni Arabs will accept. That will be easier to do with the independence and leverage of a secure base inside Syria. … President Trump should break through the flawed logic and poor planning that he inherited from his predecessor. He can transform this struggle, but only by transforming America’s approach to it.”

    A New Scheme on Syria

    In other words, the neocons are back to their clever word games and their strategic maneuverings to entice the U.S. military into a “regime change” project in Syria.

  2. CIA Drug Wars Could Explain Why Syrian ‘Rebels’, ISIS Violence Fuelled by Captagon Pills
    October 14, 2016 By 21wire 5 Comments

    Patrick Henningsen
    21st Century Wire

    When commenting on the horrors of ISIS and all of their violent videos promoted around the clock by CNN and other mainstream media outlets, I will often hear people say, “This is just pure evil. How could they do such horrible things?” Far from being some existential mystery, there are answers to these questions, but if you are waiting for your elected representatives or their highly paid media surrogates to provide any, you will be waiting in vain.

    This week, yet another clue surfaced when Lebanon’s Daily Star reported:

    “The Internal Security Forces announced Tuesday that an operation to smuggle 3.5 million Captagon pills into Saudi Arabia has been foiled…”

    “Captagon? Never heard of it,” would be your standard answer in the west.

    This story is much deeper than most people realize. Captagon is a highly addictive compound, presently produced in places like Lebanon and Syria and currently expanding to other locations across the region. Here’s where it gets interesting: its proceeds inject hundreds of millions of dollars back into Syria’s black-market. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the main drivers of this war.

    This is one item which US officials generally will not comment on, much less try and mitigate. The reason for this is simple: Captagon is a major asset in the US Coalition’s primary directive in Syria: to destabilize the state and overthrow the government of Bashar al Assad in Damascus.

    The drug gives Washington’s “rebels” a crucial edge.

    “A powerful amphetamine tablet based on the original synthetic drug known as “fenethylline,” Captagon quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing Syria’s fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon.” (Source: Washington Post)

    Pills sell for between $5 and $20 per tablet and according to a report filed by The Guardian is popular with western-backed ‘rebels’ and fellow travellers from western Europe who don’t follow, “strict interpretations of Islamic law.”

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