The Implications of the Iran Nuclear Deal for Syria
To be succinct, this blog will not analyze the 159 pages of the Iranian nuclear deal. Rather, this post will lay out the possible implications the deal could have for the ongoing civil war in Syria. Throughout the war, Iran has been sponsoring Syria’s Regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. Assad has proven to be ruthless against the opposition, especially through his regime’s practice of torture and the constant barrel bombings in civilian areas, which have killed thousands. The Iranian nuclear deal with the six world powers could be detrimental to the Syrian opposition, who hope to end Assad’s 15 year reign of the country.
After confirming a new $1 billion credit line from the Iranian government last week, Assad expressed his joy for the Iranian nuclear deal by congratulating the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. The deal, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has respected its part of the agreement, will see economic sanctions from the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, and the executive orders from the United States lifted. The economic relief will not be felt immediately, as it could take the IAEA until early next year to report its findings. During sanctions, over $100 billion worth of Iran’s assets were frozen, and on “implementation day,” when the IAEA clear Iran, the Islamic Republic will receive their “signing bonus” and have their assets unfrozen. With Iran’s assets fully functioning again, their oil exports will surely skyrocket giving the country an influx of cash. The relevance of the sanctions relief in regard to the Syrian conflict is that the Iranian citizens were beginning to show unrest with the government using tax money to fund Assad’s endeavors. However, with millions coming their way, Iranians will likely be more at ease about their government’s foreign policy expenditures. In essence, as noted in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “more money for Iran means more money for Syria, or at least less Iranian domestic pressure to trim the current level of funding.”
Another component of the deal that will surely affect the Syrian civil war is the arms embargo on Iran. The deal states that the arms embargo will not be lifted for five years regarding conventional weapons and eight years for ballistic missiles. However, according to the New York Times, the embargo could be lifted much earlier if Iran can prove to the IAEA that its nuclear program is completely peaceful and that it is not cheating on its part of the agreement. If the embargo were to be lifted any time in the next couple of years, it would directly affect Syria as Iran sees arming its proxies in Syria as an integral feature of its own national security. Over the past decade, Iran has been funding Assad’s military operations as well as their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, whose fighters are actively fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime. Iran has been covertly smuggling weapons into Syria overland as well as by sea. In 2009, Israel stopped an Iranian shipment to Hezbollah — some 500 tons of weapons, including thousands of medium-range rockets. If the arms embargo is lifted, Iran will not have to operate covertly any longer, and its arms trafficking would likely be done on a larger and more frequent scale. This would greatly empower Hezbollah and Assad and as a result, there would likely be an increase in the regime’s capability to attack its own population through its typical barrel bombs.
For Assad, the nuclear deal with Iran is positive. The Syrian regime has already received millions of dollars from Tehran during sanctions, and now with sanctions relief they could receive even more. Once the arms embargo is lifted, Assad’s forces will be able to receive additional weapons overtly to fortify their strongholds and fight the opposition. This deal will therefore be a huge blow to the opposition forces battling the regime. After the nuclear deal was made official, Mohamed Maktabi, the Secretary General of the Syrian National Council (the opposition government to Assad’s regime), was quick to express his concerns. “We have a real fear that Iran will use the unfrozen accounts for more shameless intervention in the region and enflaming strife and war, as well as providing more support to the Assad regime to prevent its fall and allow it to continue carrying out terrorist massacres against the Syrian people.”