US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria

US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria
A US-backed anti-government Syrian fighter from Maghaweer al-Thawra (left) and an American soldier take their position at the Syrian-Iraqi crossing border point of Al-Tanf, south Syria on May 23, 2017. (Hammurabi's Justice News via AP)
Updated 26 May 2017

US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria

US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria

WASHINGTON: The six-year cold peace that the US and Iran have operationally maintained in Syria could be approaching an end as their rival strategies collide in the east and south of Syria.
This silent truce between US and Iran effectively broke on May 18 when the US-led coalition carried out its first airstrike against an Iranian proxy group near the base of Al-Tanf, close to Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan.
The base hosts US advisers and local forces that Washington is training in its battle to take back Daesh-held territory. But the strike, experts agreed, is a harbinger of a period of more confrontation between US and Iran as their agendas seem bound to clash in a post-Daesh Syria.

Fight for geopolitics and territory
In a briefing from the US Defense Department on Wednesday, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian defined the May 18 strike as a move to protect pro-US forces. “First thing I would say is I’m concerned about any threat to our forces on the ground,” he said.
Harrigian did not apologize or shy away from further action against Iranian proxies if they become a threat to the US-trained forces. “I’m just going to reiterate the fact that we will protect our forces... we will do what it takes to ensure that our ground forces, if they’re threatened, we’re going to take the necessary action,” he said.
The operational dynamics on the ground in Syria are inching Tehran and Washington closer to a confrontation said Nicholas A. Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington.
“The IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) is running Iranian foreign policy toward Syria, and the IRGC is acutely aware that building US military presence in southern and eastern Syria would take significant territory out of Assad’s reach,” Heras told Arab News.
In essence “Iran does not want Assad to be left with nothing to claim on the monopoly board that is Eastern Syria,” which explains the recent buildup of pro-Iran militias in the area according to the expert.
Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Arab News the US strike was “simply a move by Washington to enforce basic principles that it will protect its forces and local allies, including in areas where there are ongoing offensive operations.”
In the bigger scheme, the fight is one for leverage and territory, explained Heras. “The Trump administration is actively looking for options to utilize the counter-Daesh campaign, and the territory conquered by US-backed (forces), to prevent Iran from achieving its objectives in Syria.” Heras added that “the US wants to build maximum leverage on Bashar Assad and his friends Iran and Russia, and the best way to do that now is by capturing and ruling territory in eastern Syria.”

Ripe for escalation?
Itani defined the US and Iran as “adversaries in a zero-sum geopolitical competition,” but with limitations in Syria. In this latest development Itani said “the US has an anti-Daesh mission, and fighting it appropriately means taking steps that infringe on Iranian territorial and political interests in Syria.”
Another clash of interest is in Iran’s fear “that the US will support a large Saudi and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) stabilization mission in eastern Syria,” said Heras. The expert added that “Iran sees the US counter-Daesh campaign as a tool for the Arab Gulf countries to enter Syria in lockstep with the United States.”
Both Heras and Itani agreed that Iran will continue to try to test US limits and its growing zone of influence in eastern Syria. “Escalation is ripe, and the US would most likely win that encounter,” said Heras. Itani cautioned that despite Washington’s military superiority “Iran can complicate things tremendously in Syria and elsewhere.”


Iran to begin vaccination in coming weeks, says Rouhani

Iran to begin vaccination in coming weeks, says Rouhani
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on January 20, 2021, shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani charing a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2021

Iran to begin vaccination in coming weeks, says Rouhani

Iran to begin vaccination in coming weeks, says Rouhani
  • Tehran and Havana are under tough US sanctions that while they exempt medicine often deter foreign pharmaceutical companies from trading with them

DUBAI: President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in the coming weeks in Iran, the Middle East’s worst-hit country.
“Foreign vaccines are a necessity until local vaccines are available,” Rouhani said in televised remarks, without giving details of what foreign vaccines would be used.
Earlier this month Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, banned the government from importing vaccines from the US and Britain, which he said were possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.
Rouhani himself, in compliance with Khamenei’s ban, said at the time that his government would purchase “safe foreign vaccines.”
Iran launched human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate late last month, saying this could help it defeat the pandemic despite US sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.
“There have been good movements in the field of local and foreign vaccines,” Rouhani said, adding that three domestic vaccines — Barekat, Pasteur and Razi, some of which have been developed with foreign collaboration — could begin in the spring and summer.

BACKGROUND

The country has recorded 1,150,000 cases and 57,000 deaths. There has been a decline in recent weeks of new infections and deaths.

Cuba said earlier this month that it had signed an accord with Tehran to transfer the technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and carry out last-stage clinical trials of the shot in Iran.
Tehran and Havana are under tough US sanctions that while they exempt medicine often deter foreign pharmaceutical companies from trading with them.
In addition to developing its own vaccine, Iran is participating in the COVAX scheme which aims to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries.