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    Sorry, the US can’t ignore Syria

    By Sean Durns,


    Fires are raging across the Middle East . Israel is fighting Hamas in Gaza while trying to deter a full-scale war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Another Iranian proxy, the Houthis, is disrupting shipping in the Red Sea. But another problem looms: Syria .

    In 2015, then-President Barack Obama predicted that the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a “quagmire” for Moscow. The opposite happened. Russia and Iran worked together to save Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Iran's proxies, many trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are now using what they’ve learned in Syria to attack America’s allies in the region, including Israel and the Gulf states.

    Syria today is an Iranian satrapy. Assad has, to a very large extent, ceded control to his patrons, allowing Russian planes to dominate his skies and Iranian-backed militias to traffic drugs and arms, including precision-guided munitions, across Syrian territory. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left the door open for Iran to extend its influence further. Iran’s plans for Syria are clear. The ruling theocrats want to transform the Levantine nation into a launching pad to strike Israel. Tehran seeks to engulf Israel in a “Ring of Fire,” surrounding the Jewish state, snakelike, with its proxies. And the mullahs want to make Syria the front line.

    For years, arguably decades, Lebanon has been the centerpiece of Iran’s plans. The country’s governance is held hostage by Hezbollah , Iran’s foremost proxy, and a U.S.-designated terrorist group that possesses more weapons than many nation-states. Like other Iranian-backed groups, Hezbollah has used civilian population centers , both in southern Lebanon and Beirut, to store munitions and launch attacks.

    Yet, both Iran and Hezbollah face constraints in Lebanon. In August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and fueling popular discontent. Unsurprisingly, the Lebanese government has failed to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the explosion, seeking to sweep it under the rug while begging for Western aid. Lebanon’s finances are also dire, with rampant inflation and energy shortages matching endemic corruption.

    Syria, by contrast, offers fewer constraints. Backed by Assad and his ruthless security services, Iran has greater operational freedom in the country. The Syrian people, having been slaughtered , including with chemical weapons, have seen what Assad and his backers are willing to do to keep their hold on power. Tehran is well aware of this fact. For years, the Guard has moved weapons , including precision-guided munitions, across Syrian territory. Israel has responded by carrying out targeted strikes , including at Damascus airport . Jerusalem’s message is clear: “We see you.”

    Israel has shown that it is aware of Iran’s ambitions in Syria. But the United States hasn’t. At best, the Biden administration has largely treated Syria with neglect, seemingly hoping that if it just ignores what’s unfolding in the country, Assad and Iran will just go away.


    Many of America’s Arab allies have even tried to engage with the Syrian regime. But as Andrew Tabler, a noted Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently observed : “A year of Arab engagement with Assad has failed.” Nations like Jordan and Egypt should recalibrate. And the U.S. Senate, Tabler suggests, should pass the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act, which passed by an overwhelming margin in the House.

    U.S. allies shouldn’t be filling Assad’s coffers. The dictator and his Iranian benefactors have made their plans clear, and the U.S. must counter, not ignore or enable, them.

    The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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