By Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog
In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of politics behind the ongoing East Ghouta military operation. Western government officials have all been “outraged” at the carnage resulting from the Syrian Army siege of the Islamist-held East Ghouta region of Damascus. They have all right to be angry, after all it’s their terrorist investments that are being battered on the battlefield. The success of the Syrian Army on the battlefield against Western-backed jihadists is always followed by crude accusations against the Syrian Army. Again, the poor jihadists of East Ghouta have fallen prey to government use of chemical weapons and Washington, along with its cohorts shall come to the rescue, especially if the UN fails to agree to a resolution.
Because of all this, recently, Moscow has warned on several occasions that Washington is planning to strike Syria again and has also made its allies in Syria aware of this. Some reports also claim that the Russian air defence systems are on stand-by. Despite Moscow’s warnings, I wasn’t fully convinced until the “Coalition” spokesman said that “pro-regime forces are building up near US troops in Syria”. This sounds very similar to what happened a few weeks ago when the “coalition” decided to “defend” itself from the Syrian Army, inside Syria. Washington basically admitted to their plans of striking sometime in the near future with this simple statement. It would also make sense that Washington would want to please the Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), especially since he bought American weapons worth several billion dollars recently, so a few U.S Tomahawk strikes on Damascus would probably suffice to please MBS.
Moscow seems committed to the task of defending Syria from future attacks, having openly declared that it will not tolerate another attack on Syria and that it will respond to such attacks that endanger the lives of Russian servicemen. Tehran has warned Washington against taking any foolish decisions in the Middle East, but remains rather silent on how it will respond to further U.S aggression.
Most of the so called “Iranian forces” in Syria are actually different IRGC supported militias drawn from the greater Middle East’s Shia populations. These are called the “Defenders of the Holy Shrine” and are recruited in theory to defend the Sayyida Zainab Shrine in Damascus, but in reality they have fought numerous battles across the Aleppo, Homs and Hama provinces.
Israel- Iran a conflict within a conflict
These militias and Iran fight a parallel war in Syria, alongside the Syrian government forces. While the Syrian government forces are fighting US-backed or Turkish-backed jihadists, Iran and its plethora of allied militias, including Hezbollah, are fighting Israel and its proxies. These are indeed the same groups but the difference lies in the narration of this conflict. The Syrian cause is a nationalist one, while the Iranian one is a religiously inspired movement uniting Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and so on. Tel Aviv knows all of this, and it also knows that its proxies are being defeated. This is why they are so worried about Syria becoming an “Iranian base”. Before this war began, Israel only had Hezbollah to worry about, now they have a vast amount of Anti-Zionist militias, battle-hardened and standing right at their northern doorsteps. I find it rather unlikely that Iranian forces would be targeted by the U.S as most Iranian forces are stationed in Damascus whereas Washington’s threats seemed to be directed against forces in the Euphrates Valley or the Al-Tanf area bordering Jordan. Israel on the other hand almost always targets Damascus when it violates Syrian airspace.
In the unlikely event that the U.S would target Iranian forces, or that it would start a large scale assault on Syrian government forces, Tehran could retaliate by attacking Israel for two reasons, Israel’s proximity and because Tehran knows that Washington is hurt more by the loss of Israeli lives than that of its own soldiers. Israeli aggression was last month met with the downing of an Israeli fighter jet. In 2015, the Israeli Air force targeted several Hezbollah and IRGC commanders in Southern Syria, killing several top level people, including the son of the late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, Jihad Mughniyeh. This aggression was met with a harsh Hezbollah response on the Golan heights only a week later, killing several Israeli troops. These minor skirmishes will continue and would likely escalate if Washington decides to launch a major strike on Syria.
Another target for Iran could be Washington’s other close ally in the region, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s military is U.S armed yet very inferior compared to its rivals in the Islamic World. This has been proven in its very poor intervention in Yemen, where the Wahhabi kingdom has suffered heavy casualties and has resorted to starving the population to death. The Yemen war is an embarrassment for the Saudi Army which suffers from poor morale and incompetence.
In the event that Washington decides for an all-out war on Syria directly, Tehran could either choose to strike Saudi Arabia or choose a direct confrontation with Israel as its option, relying on its missiles to “destroy Tel Aviv”, as Iranian official Mohsen Rezaei put it. If Washington however would go for another full scale proxy attack on Syria, say for example through the pitting of its proxy “Syrian Democratic Forces” against the Syrian Army, then Iran will also likely respond by proxy, unleashing its allied militias.
In the end, Tehran has always relied on multiple ways of responding to U.S aggression, it did so in Iraq and it will do so in Syria and Lebanon as well. To Iran and its allies, Syria is not a separate conflict from the ones in Iraq and Yemen, but rather part of the same Anti-Zionist struggle, this means that an attack on one country, could result in a response in the other country.