Now that the Islamic State has been driven out of the last town it controlled in Syria, the question must be asked: who will reconstruct the country? Estimates for the reconstruction of Syria range from $250 billion to one trillion dollars. Where will that money come from? Nothing will come from the deep-pocketed Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis, or Qataris, all of them Sunni countries, and all but Qatar openly hostile to Iran-allied Syria. What about Russia? The Russians see themselves as contributing, but only if Europe, and especially the United States, agree to participate as well in financing the reconstruction. The Russians have already spent billions in helping to prop up Assad during his seven-year civil war; they are unwilling, and likely unable, to spend much more. Certainly nothing in the neighborhood of tens of billions.
Now comes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has announced that not a penny will come from the American government to help in the reconstruction of Syria as long as Iranian forces remain in Syria. The Iranians, of course, have spent directly, and through their aid to Hezbollah, huge sums on supporting Assad. There are several estimates as to the total Iranian aid to Syria. According to Staffan di Mistura, the U.N’s envoy to Syria, the Iranian government spends at least $6 billion annually on maintaining Assad’s government. That aid began in 2012, less than a year after the civil war began, and if Di Mistura is correct, Iran has spent $42 billion on Syria to date. But other figures are far higher. Nadim Shehadi, the director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, said that his research puts the actual number at $15 billion annually. That would mean Iran has spent $105 billion on Syria. And the civil war is not over yet.
In Iran, protesters in the streets this past summer shouted “Leave Syria alone and deal with Iran” as well as “Death to Palestine” and “Death to Gaza.” By this, they meant “stop spending money abroad on military adventures, we Iranians are suffering economically.” And Iran is suffering. The rial has sunk to historic lows. Of Iran’s 2.5 million barrels of oil production, Iran now manages to sell only about 1.5 million barrels, thanks to the re-imposition of American sanctions. Iran has just suffered its worst drought in more than a half-century, significantly damaging Iranian agriculture and the raising of livestock. This is another body blow to the economy.