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)


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 17 min 1 sec ago

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.