How Iran actually lost in Aleppo
Following a historic period of perseverance, Syrian rebels and their families were forced to evacuate eastern Aleppo after its liberation back in 2012. An unjust, intense war was launched upon Aleppo by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its proxy forces on the ground: Russia with its indiscriminate air strikes, and a lame-duck Syrian army of less than 20,000 deployable forces.
After more than 15 months continuous air raids and a long-lasting inhumane siege, Syrian rebels and civilians sealed an international agreement to depart Syria’s once economic and cultural hub.
In the past few weeks widespread bombing campaigns continued relentlessly on civilian areas. No Aleppo hospital was spared. The IRGC and its foot-soldiers, numbering at the tens of thousands, spearheaded the military of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in horrific mass executions of innocent people. The United Nations reported 82 individuals, including women and children, were murdered on the spot in the streets and in their homes. God knows how many more incidents have gone unreported.
The amazing perseverance shown by Aleppo locals for years now in the face of atrocious airstrikes and artillery shelling is unprecedented to say the least. Amidst all this, the silence and inaction seen from the West, especially the United States, will remain forever a source of shame.
Conflict of Interests
In the pro-Assad camp there are three decision-makers. First Russia, second Iran, and third the Syrian regime. The role played by Assad and his military in such scenes is next to nothing.
The West and Turkey became frantic for a ceasefire in Aleppo in the early days of the war due to the negative public opinion resulting from shocking crimes. They sought to have the rebels and remaining civilians transferred to other Syrian opposition controlled areas.
On December 13th, Washington and Moscow reached what can be described a ceasefire agreement. Intense negotiations between Turkey and Russia were started afterwards, resulting in an agreement between the Syrian opposition with Russia and Turkey to evacuate Aleppo. Practically, the parties involved in the talks were Aleppo representatives and Russia, hosted by Turkey. All necessary preparations were made to begin evacuating the city from the morning of Wednesday, December 14th.
However, Iran disrupted this agreement and the IRGC hindered the evacuation process. It was crystal clear Russia and Iran were pursuing different objectives and sets of interests. Iran sought not to have Aleppo evacuated but to exterminate all Syrian rebels and civilians.
Twenty-four hours later, pressure from the international community forced the implementation of the Russia-Syrian rebel agreement on December 15th. On the morning of that day the first convoy carrying the wounded exited Aleppo, only to face roadblocks imposed by Iran-backed forces and the Assad military.
Iran raised certain conditions for the evacuation. Russia later threatened to airstrike any party hindering the evacuation, an obvious warning to Iran. Tehran was forced to wind back under Moscow pressure.
As a result, the last phase of this war and the method chosen to evacuate Aleppo was a defeat for Iran and a victory for the Syrian opposition. Especially since the conflict of interest between Iran/Assad and Russia became crystal clear. Politically speaking, Iran has become a secondary party in Syria.
“For Putin, a political settlement now makes sense. Staying involved in an ongoing insurgency does not. But for that, he needs the opposition -- which is fractured -- to accept a political outcome, and there is little prospect of that so long as Assad remains in power,” as explained by Dennis Ross, who served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and was a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (which includes Iran) to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Is this the end?
The turn of events does not spell the end of the Syrian opposition. The opposition controls large swathes of Syria, with areas over ten times larger than Aleppo and millions of residents. Idlib Province has at a three million strong population; the western coast of the Euphrates in the Turkish border, recently liberated by the Free Syrian Army from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL); large portions of Deraa Province neighboring Jordan; a strategically important section in the north in Latakia Province on the Turkish border; large portions of areas in the Damascus vicinity and large portions in the Aleppo vicinity.
In contrast to Western mainstream media reporting, the Syrian opposition enjoys the capability to rise once again.
Despite all its differences, a comparison made to the Iran-Iraq War may help. In 1986, Iran made significant advances taking control over the Faw peninsula in southern Iraq. Western media and think-tanks all forecasted further advances by Iran and a defeat for Iraq. In 1988 Iran was forced into a U.N.-brokered ceasefire agreement.
Deep divisions between the Syrian nation and the Assad regime have reached the point of no return. Nearly 500,000 have been killed and more than half of the Syrian population displaced. The Syrian nation will never accept the continuation of this regime. Despite sporadic military advances, Assad has no place in Syria’s future.
Where Iran stands in Syria
Iran will not be the final victor in Syria.
First -- For Iran, it is vital to maintain Assad in power. His fall will mark the end of Iran’s crusades in Syria. Even if the Syrian opposition becomes weaker, the overall crisis will continue while Assad remains in power. Assad is no longer acceptable in the international stage with an international consensus over his resort to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Second -- While Iran is financing and providing the ground forces, in this war, it no longer enjoys the first and final word. Russia calls the shots now with stark differences in interest, as seen in Aleppo.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy, especially the failed engagement with Iran, prolonged the Syrian crisis, allowed Tehran to take advantage, Russia to take the helm and America be sidelined.
Where will developments lead with Donald Trump in the White House? What will be the new U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria, Iran and the Middle East? How can we define Washington’s relationship with Moscow, and what practical measures will Trump take against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)? Time will tell.
Good relations between the U.S. and Russia will at least not have a negative impact on the region, and this is good news for the Syrian opposition. Russia has weighable interests in Syria. However, what will Trump do with Iran? Considering Trump’s harsh tone on Iran to this day, far more positive outcomes can be forecasted for the Syrian opposition.
Second, Trump and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson have the potential of eventually convincing Russia to provide concessions. This is not in Iran’s interests, as Tehran remembers Russia ditching Libyan the dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Lesson learned in Syria
For 16 years America has failed to adopt a correct policy in the Middle East despite having huge opportunities to make significant changes. The 2003 war literally gift-wrapped Iraq to Iran, parallel to the highly flawed mentality of preferring Shiite fundamentalism to Sunni fundamentalism. This allowed Iran take full advantage of such failures and resulting voids.
Aleppo will be a short-lived success story for Iran. The tides are changing across the globe and Iran will no longer enjoy opportunities from West rapprochement. Understanding this very well, this is exactly why Tehran has resorted to such atrocities and sought to massacre all in Aleppo.
In contrast to how the U.S. handed Iraq in a silver plate to Iran, Russia never entered the Syria mayhem to hand it over to Iran. The roots of Aleppo remain in the hearts of all Syrians. As world powers, especially the U.S. and Russia review their future objectives, Iran will be the first and ultimate party to suffer.