Friday 7 September 2012
Last Update 7 September 2012 6:18 am
IRAN’S strategic and sectarian interests in the Syrian crisis cannot be clearer. While its number one interest is to help Bashar Assad survive, Tehran has a Plan B in case Assad falls down: Transforming Syria into another Afghanistan. In other words, a civil war is Iran’s second best option. Not surprisingly, Iran provides the Syrian regime with weapons just to realize one of these goals.
Senior American officials are distressed that Iran has resumed shipping weapons to Syria via Iraqi airspace. The embattled regime in Damascus has so far managed to hold on thanks to the Iranian support. Undoubtedly, the new shipment will bolster the regime’s troops in its bid to crush the revolution. This new development came at a time when the Syrian Free Army and other revolutionary forces are gaining ground in the daily battles with the Syrian troops.
The Syrian rebels are aware of Iran’s crucial support to the regime. To stave off any destructive impact of Iran, rebels controlled some border crossing to prevent Iran from trucking weapons into Syria. And yet, Iran seems to find a way to overcome this obstacle by using air shipment via Iraq under the nose of the Americans. If anything, this means that the United States has been losing Iraq slowly but surely. The Al-Maliki government in Baghdad seems to be under the cloak of Iran and therefore the limit of American influence in Iraq cannot be more obvious.
Al-Maliki has increasingly allied himself with Iran and has been viewing the conflict from his sectarian perspective. For him, the fall of Assad regime in Syria could be a strategic blow. Al-Maliki — who is obsessed with his sectarian agenda inside Iraq — fears that the power of his Kurdish and Sunni opponents may be accentuated in case Assad steps down or is forced to leave. On top of that, Al-Maliki feels that he should be in the opposite camp of key Gulf States. In fact, Al-Maliki failed to cultivate a positive and constructive relationship with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Additionally, the United States has been losing influence. Far from being effective, President Barack Obama seems to be unintentionally hurting the Syrian people in their fight for independence and freedom. His inability or unwillingness to stop the Iranians from using the Iraqi space has given Assad the oxygen needed to hold on as much as possible while the rebels are not being aided with weapons that can match what Iran has been giving to the Syrian regime.
Explicit in Iran’s behavior is that it is having a hard time giving up on its staunchest Arab ally that has facilitated Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Now with Al-Maliki throwing his lot with Iran, it seems as if the dice has been rolled and the Syrian regime will be emboldened to continue its bloody crackdown on Syrians to the end. In a twist of events, many American reports talk about Iraqi Shiite militia fighters fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian Army to defend Assad from a looming downfall.
Iran is planning for the day after Assad. For the Iranian leadership, a chaotic Syria without Assad is better than a political transition that produces a government friendly with the West. For Iranians, a stable Syria minus Bashar regime is a non-starter. They will do what it takes to create the seeds of anarchy or another Iraq. Seen in this light, Iran cannot be a positive force in Syria and this lesson should not be forgotten by the Gulf countries, Turkey and Jordan. It is highly unlikely that Iran will acquiesce to international calls not to interfere in the Syrian crisis. The stakes are high for Iranians and chances of Assad’s demise are high. Iran feels that Assad is fighting a proxy war at the behest of Tehran. So far Iran has bankrolled a huge percentage of the Syrian war efforts.
On the whole, pundits and analysts agree that the conflict has taken a brutal turn with the negative external intervention especially the one by Iran. And yet, Iran justifies its support by accusing some Gulf countries of arming rebels to help them bring down the regime in Damascus. Iran is not expected to see eye to eye with its opponents in the region. Seen in this way, if Iran can get away with this policy and go on unchecked, Assad will deepen his cruel and brutal polices and will guarantee that his departure will be followed by a civil war, the second best scenario for Tehran.