Iran's Syria spending impoverishes its people

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

A woman walks past a beggar in the Iranian capital of Tehran on July 31st, 2018. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

A woman walks past a beggar in the Iranian capital of Tehran on July 31st, 2018. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

The Iranian regime has spent more than $50 billion in Syria since the outbreak of war in 2011 to further the plans of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and pursue its expansionist agenda, Iranian affairs experts said.

This support has not gone to the Syrian people, however, but rather to ensure the survival of the Syrian regime and to thereby ensure the Iranian dream of establishing a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut is fulfilled, they said.

"Press reports that recently shed light on the financial costs Iran has incurred in Syria estimated the annual costs of financing the activities of the IRGC and its affiliates in Syria at $6 billion," said al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Fathi al-Sayed, who specialises in Iranian affairs.

This includes covering the expenses of Syrian government civilian and military institutions to ensure they do not collapse, he told Al-Mashareq.

A picture taken on February 3rd, 2014 shows low-income Iranians lining up to receive food supplies in southern Tehran. [AFP PHOTO/ISNA/Davoud Ghahrdar]

A picture taken on February 3rd, 2014 shows low-income Iranians lining up to receive food supplies in southern Tehran. [AFP PHOTO/ISNA/Davoud Ghahrdar]

Even before 2011, al-Sayed said, Iran played an economic role in Syria but that role has evolved since to allow for the Iranian regime to tighten its control over Syria and expand its presence on Syrian soil.

This has nothing to do with "supporting the Syrian people, as is being claimed, but rather centres on preserving a pro-Iran regime" that would allow Iran to further its strategic interests, he said.

"The fall of the Syrian regime would mean the end of this dream," he said, noting that Iran's support for the regime "is expected to continue".

Dilapidated infrastructure in Iran

Syrian economist Mahmoud Mustafa told Al-Mashareq that the issue is not only about "the amount of money spent" in Syria by the Iranian regime.

"Let us say the total amount spent in the Middle East region over the past few years was $50 billion," he said. "If this amount were invested inside Iran on essential industrial and economic projects, it would have almost doubled."

"It also would have created jobs for the youth and university graduates, and brought an actual change to living conditions for the Iranian people," he said.

"The infrastructure in Iran is totally dilapidated, and in many cases this has led to more disasters and losses, as happened with the floods," Mustafa said.

"If part of this money that was spent abroad was invested to address these issues, the Iranian state would have averted billions of dollars in losses and spared the people from suffering heavy losses to property and agricultural land."

Iran's spending in Syria includes "direct financial support, followed by the petroleum products Iran shipped to Syria to cover the needs of the various military forces, and the needs of markets", he said.

It also includes building and infrastructure-related projects through which Iran seeks to consolidate its presence, he said, "and its arming and funding of groups loyal to the IRGC and payment of the salaries of thousands of fighters".

"Money is the main factor in recruitment operations, given the deteriorating economic conditions the Syrian people are facing," he noted.

Mustafa said that as soon as signs of the economic crisis appeared in Iran, as a result of the international sanctions imposed on it, "the amount of monetary support provided to the Syrian regime was affected".

This triggered the collapse of the Syrian pound, he said, adding that "this is conclusive evidence of Iran's role in supporting the Syrian regime".

The survival of the Syrian regime "has caused the death of thousands of Syrians, turned millions into refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and destroyed vast areas that require billions of dollars to rebuild", he said.

In service of the IRGC's projects

"The Iranian people's money spent abroad in service of the IRGC's projects did not just go to Syria," Iranian affairs researcher Sheyar Turko told Al-Mashareq.

"Lebanon's Hizbullah has been receiving annual support valued at close to $1 billion for many years" from the Iranian regime, he said.

"The same applies to a number of groups in Iraq and Yemen, in addition to the continuous funding of IRGC-affiliated cells in the Gulf and around the world."

He estimated that this accounts for at least $100 billion that has been drained out of the Iranian treasury -- money that rightfully belonged to the Iranian people and should have been used for their benefit.

"These high figures infuriate the Iranian people, who are facing dire economic conditions amid the collapse of the Iranian currency, lack of job opportunities and layoffs," Turko said.

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