Syrian president Bashar al-Assad meeting his Iranian counterpart in Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran in 2022.

Alarm Raised In Iran As Exports To Syria Shrink By 50%

Saturday, 03/09/2024

Despite tens of billions of dollars Iran spent in Syria to save Bashar al-Assad's regime from being overrun by rebels, its exports to the Arab country have dwindled to negligible levels.

Abdolamir Rabihavi, Director General of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization for Western Asia, said Iran’s exports to Syria have plummeted by 50 percent to just $120 million annually.

Iran’s exports to Syria were $244 million in the previous Iranian calendar year (March 2022 to March 2023) but the figure has decreased to $120 million this year, reported Rabihavi in a video released by Navad-e Eqtesadi Telegram channel on Saturday.

This is far below the expected level of economic cooperation between the two allied countries, he stressed.

His remarks came a week after Hassan Shah Hosseini, head of the Syria Desk at Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that Tehran’s 100-million-dollar exports to Damascus is “very insignificant.” He urged Iranian merchants “to find their own ways to trade with Syria.”

Referring to the shrinking trade volume, Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a former high-ranking Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officer and hardline lawmaker, said in a critical tone in September 2023: “Despite our support for the Syrian government, we have little to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria today.”

“The countries that were the main causes of the war in Syria are now leading its reconstruction,” he claimed, probably referring to Turkey.

This is while Iranian officials have repeatedly emphasized that Tehran’s expenditures in Syria since 2011 should be compensated via bilateral economic cooperation. Iran entered the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago dispatching thousands of fighters and even its own Revolutionary Guard forces to fight anti-Assad insurgents.

Trying to justify the high cost of involvement in the Syrian war, the IRGC, in particular, has been arguing over the past years that trade and investment in Syria will pay off and compensate for the billions of dollars Tehran has spent to support Bashar al-Assad.

Six years ago, Yahya Rahim Safavi, special military advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, remarked that Iran should “recoup” the expenses it has incurred in Syria through the latter’s “oil, gas and phosphate mines.”

However, reports indicate that a large part of Tehran-Damascus economic agreements have fallen short of realization.

In December 2022, Mehr news agency, close to Iran’s hardliners, confirmed that Iran has “lagged behind” in taking advantage of potential trade Syria could offer, particularly in terms of exporting goods and engineering services to the country.

“None of the clauses of the major agreements between the two countries’ political leaders have resulted in any economic benefit,” Mehr wrote at that time. It also noted that Iran was to build 200,000 housing units in Syria, but this project never came to fruition.

According to a leaked document revealed in May 2023 by the hacktivist group ‘Uprising till Overthrow', affiliated with the Albania-based opposition Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), Syria owes Iran $50 billion, a combination of aid in the form of military support and cash.

It is also estimated that Iran provided Assad’s regime with roughly $11 billion worth of oil from 2012 to 2021.

In May 2020 a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, made an unprecedented declaration that Iran has spent $30 billion in Syria and must recoup the loss.

Israel’s Alma, an institute focused on threats to northern Israel, revealed in 2023 that Iran’s investment into weapons plants in Syria continues, at the expense of the Iranian people suffering the worst economic crisis in decades.

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