OPINION: Reasons To Prevent A Russian-Iranian Offensive In Idlib


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The Russia-Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis is determined to launch an all-out attack on Syria’s Idlib province, a stronghold of anti-Assad rebels. The U.N. has warned of “the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st century,” and President Trump has denounced the assault as a “grave humanitarian mistake.”

The moral obligation to avoid such a tragedy falls on all parties, but in reality, only the United States could do so. And it is more than just the right thing to do; it is in America’s interest to prevent the attack by taking a more assertive stance.

There is no doubt about the tragic consequences of a full-scale operation. Idlib is home to more than three million civilians, many of whom fled the government-held areas. A massive wave of Syrians displaced by the attacks and seeking refuge in Turkey and Europe would be only one of the unacceptable consequences of Russian-Iranian aggression.

“The United States would consider any assault on Idlib to be a reckless escalation of the conflict, even if chemical weapons were not used,” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley stated. In response, Russia launched airstrikes.

So far, U.S. officials’ statements have focused exclusively on the obviously imperative humanitarian issue, but the United States has other interests in stopping a Russia-Iran-Assad offensive on Idlib.

First, the occupation of Idlib would qualify as a major victory for Russia in the Middle East. While the previous administration allowed Putin the opportunity to fill the power vacuum resulting from its disengagement policy, inaction by the Trump administration would guarantee Putin a dominant role in the region.

If Putin is allowed to gain the upper hand, the balance of power in the region would shift so dramatically that it would likely undermine all of the current administration’s diplomatic gains in the Middle East. For example, Turkey could be expected to join the Russian camp. Conversely, denying Putin a Syrian victory would be the first step toward reversing the damage done by America’s prior disengagement.

Second, the conflict in Syria actually has two opposing sides: The Russia-Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis versus pro-democracy rebels: the United States, America’s Arab allies and Turkey. A Russian-Iranian victory in Syria would, therefore, be a defeat for America’s regional friends who have persistently asked for Washington’s help in countering the Iran-Hezbollah alliance in the region.

American inaction in the face of the adversary’s determination to win the war in Idlib would alienate Arab friends of the United States.

Most importantly, if Idlib were to fall, it would be a strategic win for Iran. The main pillar of the current administration’s Middle East policy has been to counter Iran’s destabilizing interventions. A win in Syria would potentially neutralize American efforts to pressure Iran to change its malicious behavior, which is why the mullahs — despite being under severe economic and financial pressures — have not hesitated in funding Assad.

If the Tehran regime can secure its foothold in Syria, it can survive the harshest sanctions. In other words, a strategic win in Syria can offset the losses from President Trump’s policies.

There is another reason why Iran desperately needs a win in Syria. The rising tide of protests throughout the country are shaking the ground under the mullahs. Iranian protestors are making their frustration with the regime’s regional meddling clear in slogans like“Leave Syria alone, think about us.”

A defeat in Syria would benefit Iran’s dissident majority and demoralize the regime’s suppressive forces. Those forces are vital for the survival of the mullahs, who will seek at all costs to avoid defections or — even worse — their jumping on the bandwagon of the anti-regime, revolutionary groups.

By the same token, an Iranian win in the battle for Idlib could enable the ruling regime to withstand the economic and diplomatic pressures. Plus, a military victory would increase the likelihood of the suppressive forces remaining loyal to the mullahs in the face of the rising wave of protests.

Finally, the United States is the only power capable of stopping the imminent full-scale Russian-Iranian onslaught. Our European allies can and must play a role in pressuring Russia and Iran, but only an unequivocally firm warning by the United States can stop the Russia-Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis in its tracks.

There are so many reasons we need to avoid a military operation which threatens the lives of countless civilians, has the potential for a very unwelcome strategic victory for both Russia and Iran, and unacceptable consequences for the United States and its regional allies.

Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran, MD, MA, Ph.D (c), teaches at Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University. He has participated in international policy forums, including the Policy Studies Organization’s 2016 Middle East Dialogue.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.