After 9 years of conflict, Iran is the decision-maker in Syria

The town of Afis, in Syria’s Idlib province, has sustained widespread destruction due to heavy fighting and airstrikes by pro-Syrian regime forces. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2020

After 9 years of conflict, Iran is the decision-maker in Syria

  • Foreign players backing the opposition have come to terms with Assad staying in power

LONDON: Almost 118,000 civilian deaths, 6.6 million internally displaced, 5.6 million refugees worldwide, four peace conferences, nine years, one war, one country: Syria.

What started off as peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad quickly escalated into a bloody proxy war involving the US, Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Nine years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, foreign players backing the opposition have come to terms with Assad staying in power.
But one would not have expected such an outcome in 2013, with most of the country split among anti-Assad groups and Kurdish militias.
That year, then-US President Barack Obama delivered his now-infamous “red line” speech following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in an attack on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. Also that year, Iran deployed 4,000 troops to Syria in support of Assad.
“Without Iran and its proxies, Assad wouldn’t be in power,” Phillip Smyth, Soref fellow at the Washington Institute, told Arab News.
“Iran’s Shiite militias both helped rebuild what was left of the SAA (Syrian Arab Army), allied militias, and provided the bulk of the forces needed to not only retake territory, but hold many strategic areas. Iran’s involvement was the key game-changer for the conflict.”
Now Iran and its proxies — namely its strongest, Hezbollah — run the show, with only one option in mind: Total military victory.
On Nov. 18, 2015, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said: “If not for Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the efforts of its military advisers, Damascus would have fallen during the first three years of the war.”
Former Syrian Brig. Gen. Ahmed Rahhal told Arab News: “It’s Iran and Hezbollah who are fighting today and making all the political and military decisions.”
He added: “The Assad regime obeys the Iranian military and follows the Iranian approach, and Iran accepts only the military option … Iran is unable to find a solution, but is rather capable of obstructing all solutions.”

KEYNOTES

• March 15, 2011: Start of Syrian uprising.

• May 6, 2011: Hezbollah intervenes in Syria, backing Assad regime.

• June 9, 2013: Iran sends 4,000 troops to Syria to back Assad.

• Aug. 21, 2013: First chemical weapons attack by Assad regime on Eastern Ghouta.

Alongside Hezbollah are Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. and its Quds Force. On Jan. 13, 2020, the Assad regime honored Qassem Soleimani — commander of the Quds Force, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 3 by a US missile strike — with the “Hero of the Syrian Arab Republic” medal, Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Ahmad Khasm, a 29-year-old human rights activist in northern Syria who was forcibly displaced from southern Idlib, told Arab News: “The loss that I have is a decade of my life. I should’ve had a family by now enjoying a youthful life, learning, and being with my family and friends in our hometown.”
Smyth said: “The conflict, while quite costly for Tehran, has provided benefits in terms of gained experience, and it gave Tehran the first real taste in how to deploy a multinational force under its command.”

(Zouhir AlShimale contributed to this article)


Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

A man travels on a scooter past the closed El-Sayeda Zainab Mosque in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

  • The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines

CAIRO: People around the world are living in uncertain times as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread. Fatalities and infections are rising as cities and countries go into lockdown.
Egypt is under a partial lockdown, forcing people to stay, work and learn at home. Yet behind this massive change and a fear of the unknown, COVID-19 has brought advantages.
Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, starting on March 15, respect for the government has increased, especially on social media.
“Suddenly the government is laying down a series of preemptive actions to slow down the spread of the virus,” Mohamed Badr, 32, a Cairo resident, said. “They disregarded the economic impact and focused on the safety of the people which made us all proud.”
There have been diplomatic gains. China’s Ambassador to Cairo Liao Liqiang said that China and Egypt are partners and true friends, lauding Egypt’s support to Chinese efforts to combat the virus.
The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines.
The government’s order to shut down cafes and malls during curfew hours has led to a ban on the smoking of hookahs.
With fears over infections and with a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place, there is less consumption of unhealthy food.
There are fewer road accidents too. In 2018, there were 8,480 road accidents, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The number is expected to plunge this year due to the drop in vehicles on the road.

FASTFACT

Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, respect for the government has increased.

Working from home is the new normal. The culture of work from home is forcing its way in society as many learning technologies and cloud solutions are connecting homes and workplaces.
“When I used to invite people for a Zoom meeting they were surprised. Today, it’s a normal practice and many clients actually prefer this option,” a sales representative in Cairo said.
And with school and college students stuck at home, educational institutions have quickly taken up distance learning.
With millions of people now stuck in isolation, many are using the opportunity to get creative. Videos on social media show people developing hobbies, tricks, cooking skills and paintings.
Corporations are accelerating digital transformation. Several companies are racing to implement digital and cloud technologies to manage their businesses remotely. Several telco and financial institutions pushed their services online and through contact centers rather than branch visits.
Doctors are finally getting some credit. They have long called for better salaries and benefits but their requests have fallen on deaf ears. The virus has now brought some hope for a better package in the near future.
The environment is cleaner and less polluted. And now, everyone has more time to reflect.