U.S. Strike in Syria Raises Tensions With Iran
Officials in Iran accuse White House of violating international law and siding with Islamic State
WASHINGTON—The U.S. airstrikes on Syria stoked new tensions with Iran and generated calls in Tehran for increased military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Iranian officials said on Friday the U.S. attack violated international law and accused President Donald Trump of siding with Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria.
“Not even two decades after 9/11, [the] U.S. military is fighting on same side as al-Qaeda & ISIS in Yemen & Syria,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Friday. “Time to stop hype and coverups.”
But Mr. Trump and his advisers have already taken steps in recent months to try to roll back Iranian influence in the Middle East, despite the landmark nuclear agreement forged between Tehran and global powers in 2015.
Many Middle East analysts said Iran could seek to mobilize even more military support for Mr. Assad in coming months. This is in addition to the thousands of Shiite fighters it has already deployed in Syria since civil war broke out in the country in 2011.
Syria serves as Iran’s closest regional ally and the land bridge for Iranian supplies going to Lebanese and Palestinian militias at war with Israel.
“The key question now is, what’s the Iranian response to the attack? Do they double down,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iranian experts said the government has no choice, given the billions of dollars it has already invested in Mr. Assad over the past six years.
“Iran and Russia have paid a high cost in Syria, both financially and in human life, and Iran has lost even more than Russia,” said Foad Izadi, a professor at Tehran University. “Therefore, Iran will not sit back indifferent.”
Mr. Trump, a Republican, campaigned last year against former President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran and the nuclear deal, which constrained Tehran’s capabilities but also released billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets.
Since taking office, Mr. Trump has signaled he will abide by the agreement. But he has also taken steps to try to constrain Tehran’s military capabilities and presence across the Mideast.
Mr. Trump’s administration has sanctioned dozens of Iranian companies since January for allegedly aiding Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles. And it has also increased support for a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is fighting an Iranian-backed militia in Yemen.
Military analysts said Mr. Assad may have deployed chemical weapons on Tuesday because his troops have been stretched thin by the civil war.
Iran has mobilized as many as 10,000 militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan in a largely successful military effort to buttress Mr. Assad’s defenses.
But U.S. and Arab officials believe the Syrian government has inadequate forces to hold territory it has reclaimed in recent months from rebel militias.
U.S. officials have said in recent days that they believe Thursday’s airstrikes will renew pressure on Damascus and potentially serve as a warning that Mr. Trump’s administration won’t tolerate future chemical weapons attacks. Shutting down chemical attacks, they argue, will force Iran and Russia to either pour more resources into Syria or to engage in a diplomatic process to end the Syrian civil war.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow next week for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The Syrian conflict is expected to top their agenda.