Hassan Rouhani, Victim Of A Possible Attack On Syria
04 September 2013
By Shahir Shahid Saless
While most news agencies report that an attack by the
US and its allies on Syria is imminent, new
developments have cast doubt upon those predictions.
The British Parliament rejected a proposal for
military action in Syria by a 285 to 272 margin. The
vote was nonbinding, but David Cameron stated that he
will not proceed without the Parliament's approval and
that the government "will act accordingly."
Given the outcome of the US/UK-led invasion on Iraq in
2003, the UK's decision is sensible. Prior to the 2003
invasion, the British and American governments
asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed a large cache
of chemical and biological weapons. Those claims
proved false, severely damaging the two governments'
credibility. This time, the British appear to be more
cautious. If UN experts' findings conflict with the
UK's claims that the chemical attacks were the work of
Bashar Al-Assad's regime, there would be no grounds
for an invasion that many observers believe could
result in dangerous and unpredictable consequences.
The likely UK exit will impose pressure on President
Obama, since he now has to go it alone.
Following a briefing for lawmakers featuring top
administration officials on the evening of Thursday,
August 29, members of Congress maintained that
President Obama still has to gain political support
for military strikes against Syria. This is a hurdle
that the US administration has to overcome in the
However, Pentagon officials assert that the US is
prepared to act unilaterally and that it has already
"passed the point of no return." They maintain that
strikes are likely "within days."
The US administration seeks to attack Syria for two
reasons. First, according to some reports, Jeffrey
Feltman, UN Under Secretary-General for Political
Affairs, also a former US Assistant Secretary of State
and Ambassador to Lebanon, conveyed a message to
Tehran during his recent meeting with high-ranking
Iranian officials including Mohammad Javad Zarif,
Iran's foreign minister.
According to the reports, "Feltman warned that a
successful Geneva II should be preceded by the
restoration of a balance of power, and that Iran
should understand the importance of this for the
greater goal of bringing peace back to Syria."
Sources in Tehran said that the Iranians perceived
that Feltman was calling on them to remain calm if
there were strikes on Syria.
The postponement of Geneva 2, the international peace
conference for Syria that was scheduled for Wednesday,
August 28, in The Hague, corroborates with these
reports. In other words, the US government believes
that the balance of power in Syria must change before
there can be any earnest discussions regarding the
fate of Syria.
The other reason that the US seeks to attack Syria is
that last year, President Obama proclaimed the use of
chemical weapons a "red line" for Syria. Great powers,
especially the United States, draw red lines as
preventive measures to the formation of destructive
wars. Now, with the occurrence of chemical attacks, if
the United States does not show any reaction it would
call into question the credibility of such "red line"
proclamations, rendering them empty and baseless.
Unless clear, compelling and indisputable evidence is
reported by the UN inspectors indicating that the
Syrian government was not behind the recent chemical
attacks, Obama is left with no alternative to military
action against the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Obama has so far drawn two "red lines" for
Iran: first against closing the Strait of Hormuz in
the Gulf, and second against Iran's effort to acquire
nuclear weapons. If the United States, as a super
power, adopts a passive stance against recent
developments in Syria, Iran could reasonably question
the sincerity and fortitude behind the red lines drawn
around it by the US. Such a perception of weakness
behind these red lines would have negative
consequences on the international level. Any perceived
lack of consequence for Syria's crossing of the
chemical attack red line may portray the US more as a
paper tiger than a superpower.
Iran's likely reaction to possible attacks by the US
and its allies will depend on their intensity. Iranian
officials, such as the commander of the Islamic
Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Mohammad
Ali Jafari, warned the United States government that
they risked engagement in a costly and protracted
struggle if they intervened in Syria. To take an
absolutely pacifist stance will put Iran in the same
position as the United States if they did the same. In
other words, when it comes Iran's moment of truth,
standing by as a spectator while the US thrashes
Syria's military infrastructure, might manifest the
appearance of fearing to confront the US, specifically
by the IRGC.
Therefore, if the US attacks Syria, Iran's government
might inconspicuously engage in the confrontation.
Their reactions will be primarily focused on missile
attacks against US assets.
If the US operations against Syria are limited, Iran
probably will not see any reason to escalate the
confrontation. However, if the attacks are
comprehensive and aim to destroy Assad's military
infrastructure in order to change the balance of power
in favor of the opposition, then, as Commander Jafari
has warned, Iran and Syria may expand the war theater,
drawing Israel in.
There is another threat in this conflict to consider.
Even if Iran and Syria's last resort of engaging
Israel does not come to pass, jihadi groups may
conduct false flag operations. For example, launching
rockets on Israeli cities would ultimately force
Israel to take military action against the Syrians.
In any case, regardless of how a US-led military
operation shapes up, the outcome of such a
manifestation would be the renewal of Iran's radical
foreign policy and the weakening of Rouhani's newly
established, moderate government.
A US attack on Syria would render direct talks between
Iran and the US impossible for the foreseeable future.
Rhetoric and accusations from both sides would emerge,
and the conflict over Iran's nuclear issue would
deepen. As tensions spiral, the US will implement more
punitive sanctions on Iran. This will marginalize
Rouhani and his foreign policy team led by his
moderate and pragmatic foreign minister, Mohammad
Javad Zarif, whose emergence has created high hopes of
ending Iran's aggressive foreign policies.
In an environment filled with hostility and mistrust
between Iran and the US, both sides would likely
benefit from a more moderate government in Iran. In
practice, however, in the event of a US led engagement
with Syria, hardliners would most probably resume
control of Iran's foreign policy. This could be a road
to a destructive confrontation between the US and