Zarif’s comments Tuesday came in response to the commencement Sunday of the U.S. and Jordan’s annual Exercise Eager Lion, described by the Army’s regional deputy commanding officer, Major-General Bill Hickman, as the “largest and most complex to date,” according to Al Jazeera. The drills will reportedly draw in 7,400 soldiers from 20 nations and include “for the first time ever a global strike mission” performed by U.S. B-51 bombers, according to Hickman. The massive mobilization has been regarded with deep suspicion by Iran, and Zarif told the Lebanon-based media outlet Al Mayadeen TV that U.S.-backed actions could not remove the Iran-backed government in neighboring Syria.
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“Any foreign military activity in the region is doomed to failure,” Zarif said.
Iran has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who also is backed by Russia, since insurgents and jihadists took up arms against him in 2011. The U.S., along with allies in the West and Gulf Arab states, quickly endorsed various rebel groups when the conflict broke out. After ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front (now part of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) began gaining more influence over the rebels’ ranks, the U.S. switched its focus from toppling Assad to fighting these hardline groups. In doing so, it shifted its support from rebels to a majority-Kurd coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which isc oncerned more with fighting ISIS than choosing between Assad and rebel groups, some of which are supported by Kurdish nemesis Turkey.
The U.S. still backs certain rebel groups operating against ISIS near the Jordanian border, however, and Zarif’s comments came as the Syrian army clashed with the Washington-endorsed Eastern Lions factions, according to the Associated Press. Like Iran, Syria has criticized Exercise Eager Lion being conducted near its border. The pro-opposition network Hammurabi News shared photographs Tuesday that appeared to show U.S. forces training with another Syrian rebel group, Mughawir al-Thowra, in Syria’s al-Tanf region that connects with both Jordan and Iraq.
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