America and Iran Square Off Over Syria
Image Credit: State Department (Flickr)

America and Iran Square Off Over Syria


Viewed from Washington, the crisis in Syria has always had very little to do with Syria – and a lot to with Iran. Almost from the beginning, the United States has seen the eruption of the Syrian revolt as an opportunity to deal a severe blow to Tehran, depriving it of its chief regional ally and isolating its Lebanese partner, Hezbollah. For that reason, rather than seek a diplomatic solution that would try to bring both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition to the table, since last August President Obama has demanded that Assad step down. That had the intended effect of galvanizing the Syrian opposition, which – in response to a wantonly brutal crackdown by Syrian security forces – has increasingly become a militarized force engaged in outright civil war.

Although it paid lip service to the failed UN-Arab League sponsored mission of Kofi Annan to secure a diplomatic solution and a peaceful transfer of power in Damascus, in fact the United States is orchestrating a Western coalition in concert with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar in support of the armed rebellion in Syria. At the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA, there are already regime-change preparations underway. Over the weekend, while visiting NATO member Turkey to meet with Syrian opposition leaders and Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly declared that Washington is in the “operational” phase. “We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict, but now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning,” she said adding, “Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play, so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that.”

There’s no doubt that, in Tehran, the Syrian crisis is seen as a dire threat. Yet, although the United States and its allies, including Israel, charge that Iran is heavily involved in providing military and intelligence support to Assad, in fact there is not much that Iran can do to prevent Assad’s collapse, if indeed that’s where things are headed, and many of the charges that Iran is playing a critical role in propping up Assad may be exaggerated. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Alon Ben-Meir, a prominent analyst, warned – without evidence – that Iran might intervene directly in Syria, using military force. In tandem, the U.S. State and Treasury departments this week accused Hezbollah of “actively providing support to the Assad regime as it carries out its bloody campaign against the Syrian people.”

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

But if Iran is engaged in any offensive vis-à-vis Syria, it is a diplomatic one.

Needless to say, it may be too late for a peaceful solution in Syria, even if Iran were to be involved. (Last month, when there were suggestions from Kofi Annan and others that Iran take part in talks on Syria, the idea was bluntly rebuffed by the United States.) But, precisely because it may have no other real options, Iran is engaged in a vigorous diplomatic effort in connection with the conflict in Syria.

In an August 8 piece in the Washington Post, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran once again reiterated Iran’s support for a six-point peace plan proposed by Annan, whose core, he said, was to, “Ensure an immediate cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, dispatch humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and prepare the ground for dialogue to solve the crisis.” He added, “I once again declare Iran’s support for political reform in Syria that will allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny. This includes ensuring that they have the right to participate in the upcoming free and fair presidential election under international supervision.”

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief