Attacking Syria to Undermine Iran

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Kicking a leg out from under the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah tripod could also undermine Iran President Rouhani’s diplomatic initiatives.

As many have noted, launching missile strikes against Syria might once again harden the arteries that, since Hassan Rouhani was elected president, has been transporting fresh blood to Iran’s relationship with the West. Unfortunately, turning the relationship toxic again may be what the Washington and Israel wants.

At the Independent, Robert Fisk asks of the strikes, “But why now?” He attempts to answer his own question.

I think that Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah – Iran’s ally in Lebanon – the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.

The Cruise missiles, Fisk writes

… are intended to strike at the Islamic republic now that it has a new and vibrant president  – as opposed to the crackpot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and when it just might be a little more stable.

In the same vein, at Reuters, Yeganeh Torbati reports

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.”

In other words, the United States and Israel are concerned that Iran’s conciliatory new President Rouhani will render Iran too amenable to attack over the nuclear-weapons program they allege it’s developing. Weary of the ongoing anxiety of living under what it’s convinced itself is a sword of doom, Israel supports an attack on Syria because it will keep Iran from ingratiating itself with the West.

At Arms Control NOW, Greg Thielman reminds us of the chemical weapons that Iraq used on Iran during their eight-year war and how it is

… possible, if ironic, that some straight talk about the past could help limit the potential damage to six-power nuclear negotiations with Iran that may otherwise occur as a result of any U.S. military strikes. … For the United States Government to be willing to expand on the principles laid out in the recent remarks of both Obama and Kerry with an explicit statement about Iran’s experience could be beneficial. Understanding that national governments find it difficult to apologize for anything, a simple U.S. or multilateral statement of “regret” for the world’s silence when Iran was suffering so egregiously from CW attacks could open up new possibilities for U.S.-Iranian diplomatic dialogue.

In an even more ideal world

… acknowledging that this shameful tolerance of past CW use by Iraq may have contributed to the willingness of Assad to unleash these heinous weapons in the present would strengthen the credibility of the administration’s very specific justification for a military response. At the very least, it would better position the United States for withstanding the potentially negative effects internationally from whatever military action it ends up taking.

Would that President Obama and his advisors were able to manage the Syrian crisis with the ethics, empathy, and imagination of Greg Thielman.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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