Saving Lives in Syria Requires the Removal of Iranian Influence

While the Aleppo siege was fully engaged, the mother and daughter behind a popular Twitter account went silent on social media. Their last posts, before their account went dark, spoke of the imminent danger that 7-year-old Bana al-Abed and her mother Fatemeh were facing. In some of those messages, Bana and Fatemeh seemed resigned to death, just like many other social media users in Aleppo, whose accounts remained active after the Abed family went off the grid. Fortunately for Bana and her mother, they were transferred out of Aleppo last month.

As a real-time tool, social media presence exposed many of the crimes perpetrated by pro-government forces when they overran the ancient city of Aleppo. Chilling accounts of women and children being killed in the streets, often while trying to flee from the city, reached a global audience as they occurred. 

In mid-December the United Nations confirmed that at least 82 people had been captured and murdered by the Assad government’s militant supporters, allegedly backed by Iran.

Many Syrian civilians who had the ear of the international community have failed to resurface, after telling about seeing friends, family members, and aid workers murdered in front of them.

Bana and Fatemeh served an important role by putting human faces on this conflict. Western policy makers and their constituents have with a sense of personal connection with them, that they may have never experienced while the war remained so far away. The hope for the Syrian people, the humanitarian groups and anyone involved with the country’s welfare, is that this personal connection will ultimately lead to action, and that the world will truly hear the appeal like the ones this mother and daughter made to the West.

Much needs to be done in the weeks and months ahead, if world powers plan to take action. Any large scale ceasefire must be resolutely enforced by the United Nations, the U.S. and its allies. A highly assertive negotiation to find a political solution, must be conducted.

The siege of Aleppo is proof of  how destructive the role of Assad’s Tehran backers are, and the international community shouldn’t ignore it. Even the Syrian army seemed poised to let rebels and civilians evacuate the city in the immediate aftermath of the conquest. The Russian defense ministry guaranteed a  pathway would remain open, and hundreds of evacuees went on to pass through a Russian checkpoint on their way out.  However, on a Wednesday in mid-December, at least a thousand people were stopped along the evacuation route at a checkpoint controlled by Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and their militant proxies. The Iranians had altered the ceasefire agreed upon the day before. The next day, the ceasefire appeared to have been violated, as ambulance drivers and rescue workers came under sniper fire. The Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) even identified the command base of the IRGC for Aleppo operations.

Tehran’s behavior is not surprising, based on what we know about their conduct during the Syrian Civil War, as well as  throughout the 37-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Beginning with the seizure of the U.S. embassy during the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the regime used hostage-taking as a means of achieving its geopolitical ends. It is applying that tactic to the civilians of Aleppo, because the Tehran regime wants to prolong the conflict, and to encourage the partition of Syria along sectarian lines.

Tehran’s sphere of influence is highlighted in Iraq, and the international community should not be blind to the threat of Iranian dominance, but should see the need to contain the regime to secure peace and stability in the region.

Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian coalition of democratic opposition groups, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, encapsulates the intent of the regime as being “the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in [the Middle East] can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region.” 

Peace and tranquility are complex goals and ones that are difficult to define, admits Sir David Amess, “Yet the goal of saving the lives of people stranded in Aleppo and elsewhere—people like Bana and Fatemeh al-Abed,” he writes. 

Iran must be compelled through political and financial pressure from the international community, to step away from the conflict so a lasting ceasefire agreement can be negotiated. For defenseless people like Bana, this is a vital necessity.