Many hope that US President Barack Obama finally understands the urgent need to stand against the butcher of Damascus, President Bashar Assad and the use of chemical weapons by his regime on civilians.
Obama needs to send a strong message to the world that his redlines are not just cheap talk.
While it seems the Leviathan is moving, too slowly unfortunately, one might ask why Assad crossed the redline again? Among many good answers given to this question, the best might be what Reuel Marc Gerecht articulates in The New York Times: “President Obama drew a ‘redline’ on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The dictator Bashar Assad, sensing Obama’s determination to avoid further military conflict, has crossed that line, for the obvious tactical reason that such arms are ideal in a terror war against a civilian population in revolt. Weapons of mass destruction are the great equalizers: For Syria’s minority Alawite Shi’ite dictatorship, they are an essential tool to break the stalemate against the much more numerous Sunni opposition.”
A censored variable in all of these answers is the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The French newspaper Liberation recently published a report on Iran’s aid to Syria which reached to the astonishing number of $17 billion. Iran has sent many officers of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Republic (IRGC) to Syria and every week in Iranian provincial news websites, notices are published about the funerals of military “martyrs” who traveled directly to heaven from the battlefield in Syria.
Iran also has control over Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters in Syria who have played a crucial role in keeping Assad in power.
Looking at Iran’s increasing influence in Syria, it is not clear who wields more power: Assad or commander of the IRGC, Qasem Soleimani, on behalf of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Assad might have some incentive to test Obama’s seriousness about his redline, but Iran has even more reason, as the regime finds itself in a very critical situation. Its military nuclear program is reaching a dilemma: Having a bomb or not. Iranian officials – especially those sitting in IRGC headquarters and the office of the supreme leader – dream of having a nuclear bomb and believe Obama is not as serious as he should be, that he will avoid military conflict at any cost.
The US president repeats constantly that a nuclear Iran is his redline, but what if the hardliners demonstrate that Obama is not serious about his redlines? If he doesn’t react to Assad, hardliners in Iran consequently receive confirmation: Obama is weak and will avoid any military confrontation.
The immediate consequence and the first action to be taken will be the acceleration of the military nuclear program in Iran.
Regardless of which side launched the chemical attack in Syria, Iran is eying the situation very carefully.
Not only because it has invested immense sums of money and human capital in Syria, but ultimately because of any implications for its nuclear program.
Obama has many convincing reasons to go firm against Assad. The best one is here: if he does not, the chance that Iran goes nuclear increases exponentially.
Why should Assad and Iran fear Obama when he does not take himself seriously? The American presidents first consideration before taking any action in Syria should be how Iran perceives his decision, and to think about how that message will be sent to the office of the supreme leader in Tehran.
The writer is an Iranian and a PhD candidate in Finance at the City University of New York.