During a recent congressional hearing on US policy in Syria, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said: “These countries [Russia and Iran] are digging into Syria preparing for the long haul, and the implications for the US interests and those of our partners are still coming into focus.”
She explained that as Iran shows “no signs of leaving Syria anytime soon”, the US must find a “coherent” and “comprehensive” strategy to counteract Iranian influence in the Middle East.
These concerns were echoed by Majid Rafizadeh, president of International American Council on the Middle East, who also called for the US to prevent Iran from taking over the region.
He said: “Iran is solidifying its presence in Syria in three different approaches: militarily, economically and politically.
Tehran is sealing long-term deals and agreements with the weak Syrian state to ‘reconstruct the Syrian military industry. This will give the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp], the Quds Force and Iran’s intelligence the perfect excuse to remain in Syria, set up more military bases, and further infiltrate Syria’s security apparatuses.”
Iran first inserted itself into Syria at the start of the civil war in 2011 by providing military advisers to the Bashar Assad regime, but this soon became a full-scale military intervention where Iranian proxies fought alongside Assad. The Iranian Regime has spent about $16 billion, according to the US State Department, to prop up the Syrian Regime and fund proxies in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
Following a meeting between Amir Hatami and Ali Abdullah Ayoub; the Iranian and Syrian defence ministers, it was announced that Iranian advisers would remain in Syria indefinitely.
US officials have told Iran to retreat, but the mullahs insist that they are there at the request of the Syrian government. The US has responded by telling Syria that it will not receive US aid for reconstruction if Iranian troops remain.
Even if Syria agrees to this, it will take time to remove Iran, but there are steps that can be taken to contain Iran’s influence in the meantime, like containing Hezbollah in Lebanon, working with regional allies, cutting Iran’s land bridge across the continent, and bringing a political change to Syria.