A leaked document originating from Iran’s presidential institution has brought to light a previously undisclosed facet of the regime’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Out of the approximately $50 billion that Iran expended in this protracted conflict, only around $18 billion has been designated for reimbursement.
However, these repayments aren’t in the form of direct cash transfers; instead, they manifest as a series of projects and initiatives. Many of these projects raise concerns due to their lack of solid technical and economic justifications, as well as the absence of guarantees for their successful implementation.
These confidential documents, revealed by the “Ghiam ta Sarnegouni (uprising until regime overthrow)” group in May of this year, provide insight into the staggering financial commitment Iran has made over a decade in the Syrian civil war, exceeding an astonishing $50 billion. This group has recently released another document that further underscores the challenges in fulfilling Iran’s demands from Syria.
The recently surfaced document, marked as ‘confidential,’ is a report titled ‘Assessment of Iran’s Investment in Syria and Debt Repayment.’ Drafted by the Deputy for Coordination and Economic and Infrastructure Oversight under the First Vice President in January 2023, a closer examination of this report reveals uncertainties as certain projects remain ambiguously outlined.
The leaked document outlines the regime’s demands from Syria, categorized into military and civilian claims.
In the realm of civilian claims, the report unveils that beyond oil transactions, Iran directly extended financial aid, credit lines, and “other payments” to Bashar al-Assad’s administration during the decade-long Syrian civil war.
The report spotlights a specific document signed in September 2022 by Syria’s Minister of Economy and Trade and Iran’s former Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Ghasemi. This document stipulates that Iran is entitled to receive about $18 billion from Syria‘s debt over a 50-year period.
The confidential report delineates eight outlined projects. While the specific timelines for three projects remain uncertain and two await finalization, Iran is prepared to invest $947 million in the remaining four projects, expecting returns from the Syrian government over 50 years.
For instance, one of the approved projects from 2015 is a phosphate mine projected to yield 1.05 billion tons. Phosphate soil is vital for chemical fertilizer production, and Iran needs 530,000 tons annually for agriculture. As per the agreement with Syria, Iran will receive phosphate soil over 50 years, requiring a $125 million investment across three years.
Another pivotal project revolves around the Homs 21 oil block, boasting approximately 100 million barrels. Under a 30-year contract initiated in 2020, Iran will invest $300 million over five years to offset a $3.4 billion debt from Syria over 30 years.
Similarly, the Bukamal 12 oil block involves another ‘definite’ contract. Although not yet initiated, a $300 million investment over five years is projected to yield $3 billion over 30 years.
Another endeavor includes establishing Syria’s third mobile phone operator, with an undisclosed execution timeframe. Iran’s commitment of $222 million will span three years for setup, with an operational phase projected for 20 years, yielding an anticipated $1.5 billion.
The fifth project involves ‘5-year payment of a portion of Latakia port’s earnings.’ Iran’s share of earnings was received in 2019 and 2020, and this payment mechanism is anticipated to continue over the next 20 years.
Next is the Hamidiyeh port project, where the report indicates ongoing negotiations for undefined objectives.
The seventh project pertains to ‘Five thousand hectares of agricultural land,’ a 25-year commitment to settle $25 million of Syria’s debt to Iran.
Lastly, the ‘Zahed Cattle Breeding’ project lacks a specific start date but is anticipated to contribute $7 million towards repaying Iran’s outstanding claims from Syria over 25 years.
In conclusion, Iran’s collective investment demand for these projects amounts to $947 million, projected to alleviate Syria’s outstanding debt to Iran by about $17.932 billion.
The report’s notable point is its structured repayment timeline—10 intervals of 5 years each. It anticipates a successful disbursement of $18 billion from Syria’s debt to Iran over 50 years after Iran’s initial 3 to 5-year investments in these projects.
To contextualize these figures, $50 billion is roughly 15% of Iran’s total GDP and equivalent to one and a half years of the government’s overall budget.
The Deputy Director’s report reveals that these projects were chosen from Syria’s list of 130 initiatives, while additional projects are undergoing assessment.
Yet, the report underscores these as the ‘foremost projects,’ signaling that amidst Syria’s extensive reconstruction, despite Iran’s $50 billion investment, only select projects were assigned, with limited potential to address Iran’s claims.
The report raises concerns about the unclear warranty status. Syrian assurances lack validation, rendering them void, and Syrian banks are unequipped to provide guarantees. This magnifies risks for Iranian private-sector endeavors, with the government and Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters poised to accept the risks.
The report underscores that the IRGC’s economic arm, Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, continues to fulfill Syria’s economic needs.
The military aspect of Iran’s demands remains nebulous, lacking conclusive enumeration. The responsibility lies with the Quds Force, yet exact figures are unavailable.
Within the past decade, Iran’s budget allocations for the IRGC Quds Force‘s military division, referred to as ‘Noor Rabi,’ were noted from 2020 to 2022. In the preceding and subsequent years, these allocations were merged with other IRGC segments.
Over the Syrian civil war’s first decade, more than 307,000 civilians perished, while 12 million were displaced, leaving 80% of the population below the poverty line.
The Quds Force’s involvement in Syria was directed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and executed under Qassem Soleimani’s leadership, constituting a significant military operation beyond Iran’s borders.