U.S. airstrikes in Syria a smackdown for Iran's mullahs

The deadly chemical attack on innocent Syrian men, women and children in Idlib, which killed at least 100 and injured 400 was little more than Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad crossing the “red line” again. It wasn't his first chemical attack, he launched a similar attack in summer of 2013, which left at least 1400 dead, according the opposition sources. At that time, the world stared in disbelief as Assad commit atrocities in Syria without paying a price.  

This time, things were different. On April 7 the U.S. launched an airstrike on an airfield believed to have been used by his forces to drop chemical bombs on Idlib. It was a clear sign of shift in the U.S. attitude toward his regime. Other nations announced support, too, making the attitude shift more than just unilateralism.

President Donald Trump said after the U.S. airstrike: “Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”

The airfield bombed is significant, because it is also used by members of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force, according to a report from Asharq Al-Awsat Arabic language website. The field has been used for a long time by IRGC to operate not only in Syria but also in Iraq.

Since the start of the bloody six-year-old Syrian war, Bashar al-Assad and his allied goons, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, thought that they could get away with anything.

They relied on the notion that the international community is too divided to take any firm action against the massacre of innocent Syrian people. So they thumbed their noses at every element of international law. Soleimani was caught on camera many times in Iraq and later in Aleppo walking around unencumbered as if he was a tourist there and not the international thug he was, blacklisted by UN resolutions banning him from traveling.

The reaction of the world’s leaders to the attack was a stark contrast to previous years in the Syrian conflict, too. Instead of knee-jerk opposition to Trump, there as almost a consensus about the fact that Assad must face the consequences of his actions; something long overdue.

In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande laid the blame for the U.S. airstrikes on Assad’s Al-Shayrat airfield solely on Assad.

They said: “President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development.”  and “His repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own population had to be sanctioned.”

The Syrian opposition welcomed the airstrikes with joy and almost disbelief that after so many years of inaction, despite repeated calls on the U.S. to act against Assad regime, the moment finally arrived with the Tomahawk missiles.    

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN Security Council: "The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary."

One of the few big exceptions to this moment of moral clarity was in the predictably repellant reaction from Iran.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani strongly defended Assad regime’s recent sarin attack on his own people. He blasted President Trump for his decision for airstrikes. Rouhani said in a televised speech referring to the U.S. president: "This man who is now in office in America claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism, but today all terrorists in Syria are celebrating the U.S. attack.” He also said: “Why have you attacked the Syrian army which is at war with terrorists? Under what law or authority did you launch your missiles at this independent country?"

The United States Senate was quick to reciprocate President Trump’s action on behalf of the Syrian people by introducing a new bill to ensure further extend measures safeguarding human rights for innocent Syrian citizens.  The bill, titled the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act was introduced on April 6 to instruct the Secretary of State to report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria, as well as to authorize assistance for investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal, in a bid to hold Assad and his regime accountable for their heinous acts.

A durable solution to Syrian crisis is something hardly disputable by anyone. The U.S. administration through its UN Ambassador Nikki Haley reiterated again on an interview with CNN on Sunday that a long term solution for Syria with Assad in the picture is not possible to imagine. She also pointed to Assad’s main sponsor, the mullahs in Iran, as a major obstacle to peace in the war-torn country and the need to end the Iranian regime’s “influence” in Syria.

The mullahs’ “influence” is something which should not be taken lightly. The Syrian people’s peaceful uprising against the Assad’s dictatorship in 2011 could have taking a different turn had it not been for the IRGC and Quds Force stepping up in full support of the regime in Damascus.

The Assad regime was on the edge in 2013 and outside the capital it had no control over the rest of the country. With the aid of mullahs who spent billions in Syria while their own people at home were hungry, and the inaction of Obama administration by turning a blind eye to Assad’s crossing its established “red line,” the Syrian dictator survived.

Now it seems that a new plan is unfolding in Washington to stop the genocide in Syria with the U.S. administration’s firm respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people. The attack may not have a major military significance but it has firm political tone to it. The action no doubt has resonated as far east as Tehran.

To put more teeth to what U.S. means in terms of ending Iran’s influence in Syria, an even more effective step forward would be to expel the IRGC and all its proxies from Syria. It would certainly help with the broader war in the region against Islamic fundamentalism in all its shapes and forms. To get rid of terrorism, get rid of the Iran's proxies.

Reza Shafiee is a member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) 

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