May 29, 2015 | Quote
Paying Tehran’s Bills
Even the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran is up to a lot of mischief in the Middle East. Tehran is engaged in a sectarian conflict from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq that has recently come to include Yemen as another active front. However, the White House continues to insist, against all evidence, that the clerical regime’s aggression won’t increase when it gets a huge cash infusion from sanctions relief and an immediate $30 to $50 billion bonus, when (or if) it signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the nuclear deal.
According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Iran will almost surely use that money to improve its domestic economy. And besides, as Obama argued last month, “most of the destabilizing activity that Iran engages in is low-tech, low-cost activity.”
The numbers say otherwise. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s Syria envoy, recently estimated that the war to prop up its Syrian ally is costing Iran $35 billion a year. That assessment is likely too high, but certainly of all Iran’s regional projects, keeping Bashar al-Assad’s regime afloat is the costliest. And that’s because it’s an occupation, says Fouad Hamdan, campaign director of Naame Shaam, an organization that keeps tabs on Iran’s war in Syria.
It’s a foreign occupation that affects Iran directly, because without control of territory in Syria, Iran loses its supply lines to Lebanon and Hezbollah, the Iranian regime’s most powerful deterrent against an Israeli strike on its nuclear program. Thus, says Hamdan, “the battle for Syria is a battle for the survival of the Iranian regime.”
There was a time when the White House found it convenient to argue that the Syrian conflict was costly to Iran. When the war started there, rather than arm rebels to help topple Assad, the administration told its media surrogates that it was wisest to stand by as the war would bleed Iran. They were right about its potential to be a quagmire for Tehran. Now, sanctions relief, including the signing bonus, will enable Iran to bolster its support for Assad.
“Imagine Syria as a kind of Iranian province or governorate,” says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Military defeats are boxing the Assad regime into an increasingly small region, basically now an enclave in western Syria along the Damascus-Homs corridor leading up to the Alawite homeland on the Mediterranean coast. Assad’s ability to survive is becoming almost entirely an Iranian responsibility. Facing a continuing war of attrition, the regime in Damascus has lost most of its ability for overland trade, with its only secure border being Lebanon. The Iranian responsibility is only increasing, as the Assad regime’s resources, and thereby its ability to maintain its patronage networks, pay salaries, and so on, shrinks or vanishes.”
Read the full article here.