London, 17 Oct - The Donald Trump administration is reportedly planning to increase economic pressure on Syria in order to push Iranian troops out of the war-torn country.
This new plan, which is part of an overall push by the US government to contain Iran's malign behaviour in the Middle East, does not endorse military force against Iran or any of its proxy forces in Syria.
Instead, it cleverly uses targeted sanctions and the threat of withholding reconstruction aid in order to increase pressure on Syria to kick the Iranian forces out.
The US plan will not only cut off reconstruction aid to parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Iranian forces, but will also put sanctions on Iranian companies that attempt to assist in the reconstruction, in order to limit Iranian influence in the aftermath of the war.
One unnamed official said that curbing Iran’s “malign influence in Syria so that it cannot threaten the region, to include ensuring the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from Syria” is a key element of Trump’s Syria strategy.
The official said: “The United States will continue to seek to hold [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad accountable for his crimes. Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the administration will soon submit to Congress a strategy for Syria that reflects the president’s key priorities.”
While Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said: “There’s a real opportunity for the US and its allies to make Iran pay for its continued occupation of Syria.”
The US has limited options against Iran in Syria, some say, because of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) law passed in 2001 by the US Congress. That law allows for the use of military force, only for self-defence or against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Professor Oona Hathaway of Yale Law School said: “If the new strategy means opening the door to using force against Iran or Iranian military forces in Syria there needs to be a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, Targeting Iran clearly falls outside the scope of the current AUMF which only includes groups with ties to 9/11. Iran doesn’t meet that test. It would be amazing if [the Trump administration tries] to make the claim this falls under the current AUMF. That would be stretching this AUMF way past its breaking point.”
But, would it though? After all, we know from documents recovered from Osama Bin Laden’s bunker in 2011 that Iran sheltered the 9/11 plotters and had a close relationship with Al Qaeda. If that isn’t an associate of those responsible for 9/11, then what it?