A U.S. Soldier surveils the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018. Picture taken on November 1, 2018..
(photo credit: COURTESY ZOE GARBARINO/U.S. ARMY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
With the American withdrawal from Syria, we will most likely see the spread of Iranian influence in the region increase further. The circumstances needed for the Iranian regime to build a continuous corridor extending from Iran to Lebanon are taking place before the world’s eyes, and decision-makers are hopefully considering the possible issues that the current United States withdrawal will cause not only for the region, but the world.
This has been an Iranian goal for many years and they only had to wait for an opportunity to present itself. The US has misunderstood the strategic culture of the Islamic Republic for well over 20 years and even at the possible expense of allies in the region, the current administration is withdrawing American troops from Syria.
The Islamic Republic is a master of the “long game.” They often calculate their moves, and especially in areas that are deemed of interest, wait for non-allied forces to leave before they attempt to project their influence. The Syrian regime is well aware that without Iranian support in the Syrian civil war, the circumstances would be very different than they are today.
Thus, Iranian proxies and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps advisers were able to freely enter Syria during the civil war and fight on behalf of the Syrian regime to keep President Bashar Assad in power, thus furthering Iranian interests.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has spread instability throughout the region by proxies in Lebanon through Hezbollah, Iraq through Shi’ite militias such as Asaib Ahl-al-Haqq and Kataib Hezbollah, in Yemen with the Houthis, as well as Gaza with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, just to name a few. These proxies are part of the Iranian deterrence that has been constructed since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Subversion and terror, most often via proxies, are key components to Iranian deterrence that the Iranians use to further interests in region and around the world.
The Iran-Iraq War left a lasting effect on the Iranian society and regime. This has left the Iranian regime preferring soft power over hard power more than often, preferring to leave the use of force to its proxies. With the Iraq war in 2003, the US effectively did what the Iranians were unable to do in a matter of weeks by reaching Baghdad and defeating the Iraqi army and removing the dictatorship.
After the war and subsequent occupation in Iraq, the Iranian influence spread throughout northern Iraq at a greater rate than ever before without one Iranian troop having to set foot in Iraq.
With the Shi’ite majority in Iraq and the implementation of democratic means of government, this will further aid the Iranians in their quest to influence and dominate the Middle East.
The growing call for an additional withdrawal of US troops from the region by many Americans will only hasten this goal if it were to take place, and lead to a further imbalance and greater upheaval in region. Now the Iranians are simply waiting for another domino to fall in its “long game” waiting for American troops to leave Iraq and further exert its influence in order to obtain its objective tactical and strategic goals. The author is a former student of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa who currently lives in Israel. He holds a MA in Political Science with a specialization in National Security and an additional MA in Child Development from the University of Haifa, as well as a BA in Psychology from Goucher College in Baltimore.
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