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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs