Three weeks ago, the White House released an official strategy for checking the Islamic Republic’s growing influence in the Middle East. A key aspect of any such plan is to prevent Iran and its allies, after Islamic State (IS) has been driven out, from seizing control of the area of Syria east of the Euphrates. Thus far, forces backed by both Russia and Iran itself seem poised to do just that. John Hannah urges the president to act before it is too late:
Iran and its allies are . . . convinced that, while full of tough talk and bluster, the Trump administration does not have the stomach for an extended military faceoff in Syria. Already, Iran, the Assad regime, and Russia are signaling to the [American-backed and Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that they cannot rely on the United States to stand by them once Islamic State is defeated. Instead, the SDF should cut its own deal with the Assad regime and its backers now rather than wait to confront them alone after the United States abandons the battlefield—as, they insist, it inevitably will. . . .
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in tandem with the Syrian regime, Russian air power, and multiple Iranian-controlled Shiite militias (including Lebanese Hizballah), is determined to seize control of the entire area that IS vacates. With that terrain secured, the Islamic Republic’s strategic objective of a contiguous ground corridor stretching across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon would be largely complete—underwritten by powerful pro-Iranian proxies in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut. Iran’s ability to project power across the Levant would be dangerously enhanced, dramatically escalating its long-term ability to threaten critical U.S. allies in Israel, Jordan, and beyond.
Someone needs to tell President Trump sooner rather than later: sir, you cannot declare war on the IRGC in October only to turn around and cede the Middle East’s northern tier to the IRGC in November. Sir, without a serious ground game that consciously works to block Iranian hegemony in Iraq and Syria, you do not have a serious strategy to counter the Iranian threat to U.S. interests. The new get-tough approach that you announced toward Iran last month would be reduced to nothing but empty talk and bluster—paper-tiger territory. And when it comes to the hard men commanding the IRGC, that would be a very dangerous place to be—for America, the Middle East, and the world.