Thursday, August 20, 2009

Syria and Iran: Together More Than Ever and Confident that They’re Winning

By Barry Rubin

One can learn a great deal by analyzing the visit of Syrian President Bashar Assad to Iran, August 19. Statements made by Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tell a lot about the allies’ strategy which seems to escape Western observers.

The first point is that they indeed are close allies. I would estimate that analyses by Western “experts” and in the media—analyses, not news reporting—that Syria can be pried away from Iran outnumber explanations that this is impossible by about ten to one. This mistaken conception is also the official policy of the United States and France, perhaps Britain as well.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this recently:

“Given what's been going on in Iran and the instability that appears to be present there, it may not be in Syria's interest to put their eggs into that basket.”

Well, Assad apparently doesn’t agree with her. Perhaps she should listen to what he’s saying and watch what he’s doing in order to draw the opposite conclusion.

Assad says: "I think that what happened in Iran is an important thing and a big lesson to the foreigners, and therefore they are not very satisfied. I believe the Iranian people's reelection [of Ahmadinejad] is another emphasis on the fact that Iran and Syria must continue the regional policy as in the past."

In other words, he correctly views Ahmadinejad and the regime as a whole as even stronger after the election. Dictators respect repression; they aren’t impressed by an opposition which stages demonstrations and then whose leaders get thrown into prison. That’s especially true when they don’t even receive Western support.

Watching the gradual concessions made by the West to the Iran-Syria bloc, and its evident fear of confronting them, Assad stated that he was confident the international community will accept Iran and Syria more than it had done in the past.

Note also that the two countries are very consciously coordinating strategy in a war against Western interests and the relatively more moderate Arab regimes, a conflict that Western governments don’t even perceive as existing:

"Iran and Syria are on the same front, and any political event is an opportunity which must be used at the best way possible while helping one another."

Iranian Spiritual Guide (and the real leader of the country) Ali Khamenei agreed: “The result of this unity is evident in the Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq issues and also in the entire region.” The tide is in favor of the Resistance, he added, referring to the combination of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, Iraqi insurgents, and other members of the radical alliance.

What does this mean?

Palestine: Hamas is entrenching itself further, while European governments seem a bit less willing to isolate it. There is no prospect of bringing down that regime and the West isn’t trying to do so. He probably assumes, though is probably wrong, that Hamas is steadily making gains in subverting Fatah’s rule on the West Bank.

Lebanon: While Hizballah didn’t win the last election, it is clear that the Iran-Syria client increasingly owns the country. The country’s president is fairly subservient to Iranian and Syrian influence; the tribunal investigating Syrian terrorism in Lebanon seems pretty dead itself. Hizballah seems on the verge of re-establishing veto power in the government, and the most courageous opponent of Iran-Syria influence, Walid Jumblatt, has changed sides (or at least gone to neutrality).

Iraq: The U.S. forces are withdrawing. Iran’s money, agents, and clients seem to be able to operate freely, though Tehran is nowhere near taking over the country

Khamenei also said something truly shocking. Remarking that Syria’s improved relations with Iraq (a country against which it is daily sponsoring terrorist attacks), he added that unity [the translation probably should say “alliance”) between Iran and Syria, on one hand, and their neighbors Iraq and Turkey would benefit the region.

What is this? He is showing Iran’s longer-term plan to pull Iraq (under a more friendly faction) and Turkey (currently ruled by an Islamist-oriented regime) into a broad alliance. That statement should send shock waves throughout the West, cause intelligence analysts to pick up the phone and inform someone who has Obama’s ear.

Iran and Syria, along with their clients, are at war with America, and the U.S. government doesn’t even know it.

That’s why Khamenei said, "America’s blade has become blunter in the region."

He’s right. That’s why if anyone is worried about putting all the eggs in one basket nowadays it is America’s Arab partners. The fact that the United States is perceived as weaker and foolish in the region is far more important than the fact that Obama might be more popular in public opinion polls.

With a U.S. government so intent on apologizing to everyone, all but ruling out the use of force or power politics, and apparently—in Iran’s perception—afraid to confront its enemies, they’re concluding in Tehran and Damascus, as Ahmadinejad put it:

“Today the world has realized that Western theories are not working anymore and that is why it needs the help and cooperation of Syria and Iran.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

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