Iran’s role

For the sake of all those who strive for peace and stability in the region, they should confront Syria now – and then Iran.

Hassan Rouhani Iran flag in background 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Hassan Rouhani Iran flag in background 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
A high-level Israeli delegation held talks at the the White House this week on a range of regional issues, including the Syrian crisis and Iran’s nuclear program. While Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal regime may be the most pressing issue facing the international community following its apparent use of chemical weapons against its own civilians last week, it is Iran that remains Israel’s main concern. And there are signs it has also become a genuine concern for US President Barack Obama as well.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency due to be released today is expected to show that Iran is pressing ahead with its nuclear program by further increasing its capacity to enrich uranium, Reuters quoted diplomats as saying on Monday. At the same time, Iran is a primary supporter and sponsor of the Assad regime, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser who is an expert on the Middle East, argues in an article in Politico that Tehran is where Obama has drawn “his other red line – this time not on the large-scale use of chemical weapons but on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon.”
“Assuming Obama keeps his use of force in Syria within strict limits, it’s the Iran nuclear issue that represents the real game changer, not Syria,” Miller writes. “Better to keep his options open, then, and not get bogged down in Syria or wrestle with the Russians over Assad’s fate where they won’t give much. He may need them for diplomacy and pressure if there’s an endgame coming with the mullahs.”
According to the unidentified diplomats quoted by Reuters, Iran has started making fuel for a heavy-water reactor that could produce plutonium, a development that worries the West because of its potential to be used in a nuclear weapon.
On the other hand, the diplomats said the new report by the IAEA is likely to include data showing that Iran is limiting growth of its most sensitive nuclear stockpile, a move that could buy it time for negotiations with the US and other major powers.
Such findings paint a mixed picture of Iran’s atomic activities at a time when the world is waiting to see if its new president, Hassan Rouhani, will seek to ease tension with the Islamic Republic’s Western critics, led by Washington.
While the world is now distracted by the situation in Syria, Iran’s centrifuges are continuing to spin to produce enriched uranium, an essential ingredient for a nuclear bomb.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a point of noting Iran’s role in Syria on Sunday, after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Jerusalem.
“Assad’s regime isn’t acting alone,” Netanyahu said.
“Iran and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground.”
“Now the whole world is watching,” Netanyahu added. “Iran is watching too, and it wants to see what the reaction will be to the use of chemical weapons.”
As a US-led strike on Syria appears increasingly likely, Israel will be watching closely too. Not wanting to become embroiled in the conflict of its hostile northern neighbor, Israel can only hope that the international community punishes Assad for ordering the use of chemical weapons against his own people, and stops him from using them again.
Only swift action will send a clear message, not only to Syria, but also to Iran. Perhaps just as important is the moral message the civilized world is sending itself.
It is bad enough that the international community has been silent for so long about the civil war in Syria, which has claimed the lives of well over 100,000 people.
But now that the Assad regime has crossed the international redline, resorting to what Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called “the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people,” it can no longer sit back and watch developments unfold in Syria.
“Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny,” Kerry declared.
Kerry’s tough speech, which is seen as preparing the ground for the use of force against Syria, is to be lauded.
The US and its allies must also be reminded, however, that ultimately it is Iran that poses the most dangerous threat to the Middle East and the world.
For the sake of all those who strive for peace and stability in the region, they should confront Syria now – and then Iran.