News / Middle East

Analysis: US Strike on Syria Could Derail Iranian President's Master Plan

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks during the debate on the proposed Cabinet at the parliament, in Tehran, Iran, said his country will press forward with efforts to ward off military action against Assad regime, Aug. 15, 2013.
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks during the debate on the proposed Cabinet at the parliament, in Tehran, Iran, said his country will press forward with efforts to ward off military action against Assad regime, Aug. 15, 2013.
Reuters
If one thing could scuttle Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's big plan - to fix Iran's economy by winning some relief from Western sanctions - a U.S. strike on Tehran's ally Syria is it.
 
Rouhani's June election landslide won him the cautious backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to pursue his pledge to engage with Western countries and attempt to ease Iran's isolation over Tehran's nuclear programme.
 
But the hardliners Rouhani defeated at the polls still dominate parliament and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and are poised to return Iran to the familiar posture of defiance if the president's message of moderation falls on deaf ears abroad.
 
As the president prepares to travel to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly this month, U.S. military strikes on Syria could derail Rouhani's diplomacy before it even starts.
 
"You can hardly think of a more unlucky situation for a moderate government which wants to relax tensions with the world," wrote columnist Maziar Khosravi in Iran's reformist Sharq newspaper on Monday, referring to the likelihood of U.S. strikes to punish Assad for an apparent chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21.
 
Syria is Iran's sole regional ally, and Western foes say Tehran is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with arms, cash and Revolutionary Guardsmen to train militia to help win the civil war.
 
A U.S. strike on Syria would spell "the end of a diplomacy aimed at reducing tensions with the West and reconciliation with the world," wrote Sadeq Zibakalam, a professor at Tehran University, in Etemad, another reformist newspaper, last week.
 
"The atmosphere between Syria's allies and the West, after a Western attack on Syria, will become so cold and dark that there would be practically no space for reducing tensions and improving relations ... Iran will be forced to change its tone towards the West to a hostile one."
 
Raising the stakes
 
In Washington, some people reason that a U.S. strike on Syria would improve the prospects of a deal with Iran by reinforcing the credibility of the implicit U.S. threat to use force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
 
"If there are a set of finite but effective strikes against Syria, the effect on the Iranians will be real," said Dennis Ross, a former White House and State Department official who served as one of President Barack Obama's key advisers on Iran.
 
"It raises the stakes for them of not having diplomacy succeed," said Ross, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank.
 
Conversely, Ross said a U.S. failure to punish Syria for crossing Obama's "red line" with the use of chemical weapons might make Iran believe it could pursue its nuclear program with impunity.
 
This argument is reinforced by the view held by many in the United States that it is the sweeping U.S., European Union and United Nations sanctions on Iran that have brought about Iran's new willingness to engage over its nuclear program.
 
However, there are those who make the opposite case: that strikes on Syria would reinforce those in Iran who favour obtaining nuclear weapons and undermine a potential deal.
 
"There's a valid argument to be made that U.S. inaction in Syria will embolden Iran to move forward with its nuclear ambitions. There's an equally valid argument that if the U.S. attacks Syria, Iran will feel an even greater need for a nuclear deterrent," said Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank in Washington.
 
Divisions in Tehran
 
When considering their response to any strike on Syria, Iranian leaders must weigh the costs and benefits of backing Assad, versus the advantage to be gained from a possible detente with the United States, the prospect of a nuclear deal and the easing of sanctions.
 
So far, Iran's response to the chemical weapons attack suggests disagreement within the corridors of power in Tehran.
 
A chorus of Revolutionary Guards commanders have issued daily dire warnings that U.S. strikes on Syria would result in a conflict engulfing the whole region - implying retaliation against Israel, presumably by Iran's Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
 
"An attack on Syria will mean the imminent destruction of Israel," IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying last week in an interview with the Tasnim news agency.
 
In a speech on Wednesday, Rouhani said any U.S. strike on Syria would be illegitimate.
 
"The fact that the United States has asked for feedback from its own Congress for action against Syria means that the United States does not have international legitimacy for this action from the United Nations, the Security Council, and public opinion," the ISNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.
 
Rouhani has also condemned the use of chemical weapons, pointing out that Iranian troops were victims of gas attacks during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. He stopped short of apportioning blame for the attack in Syria.
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went further, blaming Syrian rebels. He also warned the United States not to get involved: "The Syria crisis is a trap set by Zionist pressure groups for (the United States)," Iran's English-language channel Press TV quoted him as saying.
 
But Zarif has also offered some mild criticism of the Syrian government.
 
"We believe that big mistakes made by the government in Syria unfortunately provided an opportunity for abuse," Iranian media quoted him as saying this week. He has also repeatedly called for diplomacy as an alternative to Obama's stark alternatives of military strikes versus inaction.
 
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ally and mentor of Rouhani, appeared to go further last week by blaming the Syrian government for the Aug. 21 attack.
 
The Foreign Ministry denied Rafsanjani said any such thing, but while the semi-official state news agency that originally quoted him changed those comments, it left unchanged Rafsanjani's charge that in Syria "the prisons are overflowing and they've converted stadiums into prisons".
 
"The Syrian crisis is as polarising for Iran's political elite as it is for the international community," said Yasmin Alem, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "It is no longer clear whether Syria is the lynchpin of Iran's security or a threat to it."
 
Much depends on the intensity and extent of any U.S. attacks on Syrian government forces and facilities.
 
"A limited attack with minimum impact on the balance of power in Syria is unlikely to impede nuclear diplomacy with Iran," said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.
 
"Rouhani's success depends on rescuing Iran's ailing economy, the realization of which is nearly impracticable without sanctions relief. If he allows Syria to spoil the nuclear negotiations, his presidency will falter just one month after it began."
Loading...

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid