Iran and the Syrian Fire |
Al Hayat - 06 August, 2012
Author: Ghassan Charbel
In the past decade, Iran collected many gold medals, often without even competing in any contests. Iran collected the first one in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, which sparked a war between the “Great Satan” and al-Qaeda. The second came when U.S. forces uprooted the Taliban regime, which had never concealed its hostility to the Iranian regime. Then Iran won its third medal when U.S. troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, who had once forced Iran to keep the embers of its revolution confined within its borders. Then it took the fourth medal with the July War in Lebanon in 2006.
Things looked rosy for the grand Iranian scheme. Ahmadinejad visited Baghdad, despite the fact that U.S. troops were deployed there, and he seemed confident that they were waiting for the nearest opportunity to leave. He also visited Damascus, and the group photo of him, Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed the emergence of the Pro-Resistance Crescent. Then, Ahmadinejad did not squander the opportunity he had during his visit to Beirut and South Lebanon, to remind regional and international powers that his country was now bathing its rockets in the waters of the Mediterranean.
Iran won the gold medals, then began to rush forward along the path of its grand scheme: A nuclear bomb, or at least, acquiring the ability to produce one, and the big role that can threaten the security of oil supplies and of Israel together.
When the Arab spring erupted, Iran tried to suggest it had intimate links to it. It rejoiced in seeing the friends of the West ousted. But when the spring erupted in Syria, it fell into a costly trap. It simply could not escape its deep and close alliance with the Syrian regime. Neither neutrality was possible, nor was staying away.
Syria is not just a corridor to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is much more than that. The relationship with Syria is the most important achievement of Khomeini’s revolution. Having a presence in Damascus signifies being also present in Beirut, South Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question. Being present in Damascus prevents the establishment of any serious Arab barrier to Iranian incursion into the region.
Iran cannot concede defeat in Syria. Losing Syria would deal a severe blow to Hezbollah’s halo, arsenal, cards and weight in the region, and its ability to both attack and defend. Losing Syria means that Iran would be losing its Palestinian extension, especially after Khaled Mashaal left Damascus. Furthermore, losing Syria would strengthen the cause of those who are calling for the balances in Iraq to be readjusted. In this sense, losing Syria threatens to strip Iran of the medals it had collected in the past decade. The dismantlement of the pro-resistance crescent undermines the Iranian role, and at the same time, Tehran’s position in the nuclear negotiations.
Iran cannot accept to lose Syria. But it cannot save the Syrian regime either. This regime has suffered severe injury and structural damages. No doubt, the ruling party was dealt fatal blows. The image of the army, too, suffered alarming blows, and the same can be said of the image of decision makers in Syria.
The Syrian crisis has lured Iran to an overt and horrific clash with the majority in Syria and the region, a clash with a sectarian overtone highlighted by the repeated incidents of kidnapping of Iranian nationals in Syria. The isolation that has blighted the Syrian regime, has also affected Iran, despite the continued defiance shown by Russia.
Iran is twirling over the Syrian fire. It cannot dissociate itself or stay away, but at the same time, cannot overturn the course of events. The Syrian developments hurt Iran and so do the sanctions. Since the outbreak of its war with Iraq, Iran has not faced such difficult circumstances. Escaping the Syrian crisis by provoking a war in South Lebanon or a major crisis in the Gulf seems fraught with dangers. Sending volunteers to Syria would add fuel to the fire of the sectarian regional war. Wagering on retaining a portion of Syria implies opening the door for manipulating maps and borders, or in other words, opening the gates of hell, and it also requires the consent of Vladimir Putin, who is attempting to exploit Syrian blood to restore the standing of his country.
Iran is twirling over the Syrian fire. It is launching new generations of missiles like an anxious boxer who wants to remind the world of his muscles. But the time for gold medals is gone. Now is the time of losses.