JEDDAH: The US has moved to disrupt an Iranian-Russian network that it said had sent millions of barrels of oil to Syria and hundreds of millions of dollars to indirectly fund militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
The complicated arrangement, described by the US Treasury in a statement on Tuesday, involved a Syrian citizen allegedly using his Russia-based company to ship Iranian oil to Syria with the aid of a Russian state-owned company.
Syria then helped transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Hezbollah, which functions as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia, as well as to Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip.
The US authorities alleged that since 2014, vessels carrying Iranian oil have switched off transponders to conceal deliveries to Syria.
Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh described the move as a step in the right direction.
“This move is the first correct step toward reducing Russia’s, and specifically, Iran’s increasing influence in Syria,” he told Arab News. “Tehran’s political opportunism in Syria is serving the Iranian regime ideologically, economically, geopolitically and strategically.”
According to him, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is also establishing a permanent military base in the south of Damascus and has significant control over some Syrian airports.
“A multi-faceted strategy is required to lessen Iran’s military, political and economic influence in Syria,” said Rafizadeh. “Governments around the world must act now to reduce Iran’s influence across Syria before it is too late.”
Russia will continue supplying oil to Syria in line with its agreement with Damascus despite pressure from the US, said Oleg Morozov, a member of the Russian Federation Council.
“The political defeat in Syria apparently prompts the United States to return to the idea of regime change in Damascus. Therefore, economic pressure through oil supply shutdown becomes a tool of the new economic war with (Syrian President) Bashar Assad and indirectly with Moscow and Iran,” he said.
“We have an agreement with Syria and therefore it’s up to us to decide what we supply and to whom. This will be our answer, (it is) much more effective than counter-sanctions,” he added.