As reports began to flood out of Aleppo last week concerning dozens of citizens shot in the streets by out-of-control regime forces, it was nauseating to see some individuals celebrating. Iran and Hezbollah have been unashamedly congratulating each other for their role in bombing citizens of this mighty Arab city to their knees.
One cannot be human and not be heartbroken for the father who has to summon the will to get out of bed each day after his wife and children were slaughtered; or the pregnant woman who went into labor at the shock of seeing her husband shot dead at a checkpoint by Iranian militias. So many lives destroyed, so callously. The dead are simply dead, yet those left behind endure a living death after everything was ripped away from them.
Unmoved by this carnage, a senior aide to Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei boasted: “Aleppo was liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah… The new American president should take heed of the powers of Iran.” We hope that US President-elect Donald Trump will be duly impressed by a regime that murders women and babies to get its way.
More sickening still, while the Russians and even Syrian President Bashar Assad had not opposed the departure of civilians, the Iranians blocked the deal. Humanitarian efforts were held up for days to negotiate a deal of safe passage for Iran proxy militias elsewhere. The presence of Qassim Soleimani, the notorious head of Iran’s Al-Quds Force, in eastern Aleppo shows the degree to which Iran is micromanaging this slaughter.
The UN on Dec. 13 reported Iranian militias and regime forces carrying out summary killings of at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, in newly-captured neighborhoods. Videos on social media showed these militias detaining and arbitrarily killing civilians. We grew up watching heart-rending abuses in Palestine, but this is Palestine 100 times over.
What does Iran get out of the billions of dollars it has spent and the thousands of lives it has taken? Reuters noted that the capture of Aleppo brings Iran several steps closer to dominating a massive area of contiguous territory all the way to the Mediterranean. Is it coincidental that at exactly this moment, the Iraqi Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias are extending their control over substantive areas of the Syria-Iraq border west of Mosul?
Some people talk about the establishment of a “Shiite Crescent,” but this has nothing to do with Sunni and Shiite — this is an unashamed land grab on a massive scale in the cause of Iranian regional hegemony.
As the Washington Institute’s Phillip Smyth explains: “They are building a force on the ground that, long after the war, will stay there and wield a strong military and ideological influence over Syria for Iran.” In other words, it will no longer be correct to speak of Assad’s Syria. It will all belong to Iran.
The UN has shown itself to be completely irrelevant. Anguished statements from around the world simply add insult to injury. If governments have no intention of lifting a finger to help, better to retain an undignified silence.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp. (IRGC) commanders threatened to move on from Syria to attack Bahrain and Yemen. The IRGC’s Hussain Salami told the media: “The victory in Aleppo will pave the way for liberating Bahrain… the people of Bahrain will achieve their wishes, the Yemeni people will be delighted, and the residents of Mosul will taste victory, these are all divine promises.” Similar figures have also talked about turning Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi into a regional expedition force to be deployed in Yemen and elsewhere.
We are right to take Iran’s rhetoric at face value: Assad would indisputably not be where he is today if it was not for billions of dollars of Iranian aid and arms. Iran sent military experts and thousands of fighters to Syria, alongside around 5,000 Hezbollah fighters serving at any one time.
Figures from Hezbollah say the movement has lost 1,600 fighters in Syria, although well-connected Lebanese suspect that fatalities are many times higher. Iraqi militias under Soleimani have lost several thousand fighters. Afghan refugees abducted from the streets of Tehran were taken straight to the frontlines, and had particularly high casualty rates.
At a time when levels of Iranian youth unemployment, according to official statistics, exceed 26 percent, Assad should be intensely grateful for the generous salaries Iran has paid to Pakistani, Afghan and Iraqi militias to act as cannon fodder in this endless conflict.
The global media considers these militias to be too complex for their readerships to grasp. How many people reading this are familiar with the Abu-Al-Fadhil Al-Abbas Brigades, the Fatimioun Brigades and the Nujaba Front? These militias have transformed the Syrian conflict.
Are people worldwide bearing witness to these crimes justified in saying Iran is 100 times worse than Israel? The combined land mass of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon (states that Iran boasts it now dominates) is around 632,700 sq. km. This is just over 100 times larger than the occupied Palestinian territories (6,220 sq. km.). Who is the exponentially bigger occupier of Arab lands?
When Iran claims that it is winning the war for Assad, it perhaps acknowledges responsibility for 400,000 Syrians who have lost their lives according to the UN (others say far higher). If we only attribute 250,000 of these to Iranian munitions, this is still 100 times more than the 2,500 Palestinians killed by Israel since 2011. We have not factored in the loss of life from Iranian proxies in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
I grew up angry at Israel’s crimes against the Arab nation, having seen its army march into Lebanon to rip my homeland to shreds. Israel’s apartheid regime commits horrific acts against innocent citizens under occupation. This does not invalidate the fact that in widening its stranglehold on Arab states, Iran is objectively 100 times more dangerous and 100 times more of an immediate threat.
Many of us remember Hezbollah shedding crocodile tears over the value of every inch of Arab land. It refused to disarm because of a tiny pocket of land (22 sq. km.) in the occupied Golan Heights known as the Shebaa Farms, which some claim is Lebanese.
Today, Hezbollah can proudly claim to have sacrificed the lives of 1,600 of its fighters in order to hand over hundreds of thousands of square miles of Arab territory to an even more insidious enemy than Israel.
Iran has a second-rate military and a basket-case economy crippled by sanctions. Many Iranians would long to be rid of their leadership. However, Tehran has spent the last few decades on a war footing, not missing a single dirty trick to further its cause. We, meanwhile, have been asleep.
In 1948 and 1967, Palestinians who had lost everything vowed to fight for their land until the last drop of blood, in memory of loved ones who they had seen slaughtered before their eyes. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of these innocent victims of occupation are no less determined to win back their homeland so many decades later. Why should the people of Syria be any less determined? Iran uses Palestine as a pretext for so many of its worst crimes — has it learned nothing about the resolve of the Arab nation?
Khamenei, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Soleimani, Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin may congratulate each other at their success in slaughtering the women and children of Aleppo. However, as with the Palestinian cause, they have united against them all those around the world who stand alongside humanity.
There will come a day when the proud people of Syria and the Arab world fight to restore their freedom and dignity, with 100 times the determination and fury with which it was stolen from them.