Israel’s airstrikes on Syria overnight on Wednesday has been called “Operation House of Cards,” according to reports. On the surface the reference seems confusing. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired 20 rockets at Israel and in response Israel carried out a massive and complex retaliation targeting more than thirty sites in Syria.
House of Cards may be a reference to the Netflix series or the saying “house of cards.” Here’s why “House of Cards” is a perfect name for the campaign against Iran’s presence in Syria.
Iran has overplayed its hand in Syria
Iran wanted to retaliate against Israel for months but it couldn’t figure out when and how. Its rockets were targeted in various air strikes which Syria’s regime blamed on Israel. Iran also wanted to wait for Lebanon’s elections to end on May 6 and to see if US President Donald Trump would leave the Iran Deal. Then Iran’s IRGC sought to fire only 20 missiles at Israel. Iran thought that Israel would retaliate in kind, a rocket for a rocket. It didn’t realize that it had badly miscalculated and that a massive response would occur. It has badly mismanaged its hand in Syria. But creating so many bases and infrastructure it left itself exposed. Its footprint grew over time, and at each phase of Iran’s growth in Syria it became more exposed, not less exposed. So like a poker player who thought he had a great hand, only to see the river card and realize all hope is lost, Iran now realizes it has a weak hand.
Because Iran’s Syria policy could collapse like a House of Cards
Iran has built up an impressive presence in Syria. It’s militias and tentacles wrap around the regime. It has tens of thousands of fighters it recruited. But because it is stretched thin and has invested so much it also has more to lose. This presents a kind of “house of cards.” Iran has built up its networks carefully over time. Huge investments in men and resources. Construction equipment. Convoys. Missiles. Bunkers. Training. And now that house of cards is at risk. Too many provocative moves and Iran could find itself seriously threatened.
Because Iran thinks its strategy is complex like the series ‘House of Cards’
Iran always likes to sell itself as some kind of super complex actor. It sees itself as having “hardliners” and “moderates” and that at every turn it can show one puppet to the West and another to its public. It hangs its own people but abroad it puts on a nice face. Iran really thinks it can replicate the Netflix series and be the Frank Underwood of the Middle East. It thinks that through its diplomacy and militias and IRGC it has fooled the world. It definitely felt this way after the Iran Deal in 2015 when it received a relief in sanctions and no curtailment of its policies. It has been on a winning streak with Hezbollah doing well in Lebanese elections and its Shi’ite militia allies gaining strength in Iraq.
Because Iran’s forces in Syria just got thrown in front of a train like Zoe Barnes
Perhaps the best analogy to Iran’s “House of Cards” moment in Syria is when its forces realized on the morning of May 10 that there was nothing to protect them from Israel’s retaliation. Like the shocking episode where Underwoord murders Zoe Barns, Iran work up in shock. It’s media even tried to tell the world that the Syrian regime had intercepted the Israeli air raids. But evidence likely tells a different story. Iran suffered a setback. It feels like it has woken up from a hangover and doesn’t know what to do next.