On my Mind: From Tehran to Damascus

The six-month interim deal does not in itself guarantee an end to Iran’s nuclear-weapons quest.

By
November 25, 2013 21:36
3 minute read.
Free Syrian Army fighter  in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood, April 28, 2013

Free Syrian Army fighter 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Aref Hretani)

 
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Evil begets evil. A regime that actively supports terrorism, meddles in the affairs of other countries and seeks nuclear- weapons capability is inherently dangerous, but that does not grant it immunity from the kind of violence that it has spawned and nurtured.

The suicide bombing attack on Iran’s embassy in Beirut last week was an alltoo- fitting counterpoint to the menacing projection of Iranian influence and power.

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It was Iran that introduced the act of bombing a foreign legation in Beirut 30 years ago, when Hezbollah destroyed the US embassy.

The Hezbollah-Iran partnership has fatally struck many times over the years, in the Middle East and in Latin America, Asia and Europe.

They are currently collaborating in Syria in defense of the Bashar Assad regime, whose brutal reaction to a nascent revolt has led to the most violent and destabilizing outcome of any of the political revolutions across the Arab world over the past few years.

Assad has relied on his longtime allies to do whatever he deems necessary, and with their assistance, to stay in power.

While Assad decries foreign support for his opponents, whom he labels terrorists, he has had no qualms about welcoming the engagement of his favorite external actors, Hezbollah and Iran.



Assad’s other chief allies, China and Russia, have used their political power to block any meaningful UN Security Council action, and they last week thwarted a UN measure calling on Assad to ensure safe passage inside Syria for food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Millions of Syrian refugees inside the country desperately await such assistance, but the regime has severely restricted their access to it.

The failure to deliver essential humanitarian aid stands in sharp contrast to the apparent willingness of Assad to cooperate in shutting down his vast chemical weapons operation.

But whether a plan can be developed for collecting, exporting and ultimately destroying all of Syria’s chemical weapons remains uncertain. Nonetheless, the US-Russia initiative gave Assad a virtual reprieve from earlier calls for his removal.

Indeed, Assad behaves now with renewed confidence, offering to send representatives to possible peace talks in Geneva next month that he probably speculates will not take place. Yet the anticipation is there. During the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, which resulted in the interim nuclear deal announced on Sunday, there was growing expectation that the US and Russia could also get the various parties to the Syria conflict around a table in Geneva.

Iran, of course, expects to get a seat. It should not.

The master of denial, Iran has rejected charges of involvement on the ground in Syria at least as often as it has denied any intention of developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have, in fact, been very active in Syria; and in a rare public appearance this month, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, reaffirmed his vow to keep his forces in Syria.

It’s a pity that the P5+1 meeting in Geneva did not raise Iran’s regional behavior, in particular its critical support for Hezbollah’s foothold in Lebanon and its military involvement in Syria. Indeed, there are many more questions than answers about Iran, Syria and Hezbollah following the conclusion of the Geneva talks.

The six-month interim deal does not in itself guarantee an end to Iran’s nuclear-weapons quest, and that’s a lesson no doubt being absorbed in Damascus. Assad may well look at what Tehran got, after years of obstinacy and defiance, and conclude that if he, too, continues to say the right words, he can continue to hold on.

It worked for Assad on chemical weapons, averting an attack by the US and France after his regime murdered Syrians with those weapons of mass destruction. Prospects for the Syrian people are not encouraging. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out so aptly in an editorial, “The most lethal WMD in Syria today is Bashar Assad himself.”

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