Across the Bay

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Who's Really Afraid of Iran?

Here's an excellent piece by Lee Smith on Iran and the Arab Gulf states. Smith points to Syria's role as Iranian client and how pressuring Syria would be a logical move to counter Iran.

One thing I'd add to the part about Bashar and the possibility of him returning to the Sunni Arab fold. I've written about this before. It's unlikely to happen. This is Bashar's only leverage, both with the West and with the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. He's not about to give that up. He'll continue to try and sell himself as mediator (i.e., blackmailing), and play both sides of the street, but the notion that he will abandon his client status is unlikely. Besides, he seems to relish this role more than anything else. Anyway, whether as Iran's client (and doorway to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian rejectionists) or as mediator, he figures this would reestablish Syria's role in the Levant vis à vis the Arab states. It would also keep the Gulf states in check, as Lee notes in a perceptive passage:

The Iranians have essentially taken a page out of the modern Middle East political playbook, where the adventurist regimes try to undermine their rivals by espousing and funding radical causes. Ahmadinejad is the new Nasser, and there's no reason to think the Iranians can't bluff themselves into a disastrous war with Israel just as Nasser's Egypt did in 1967 (he also wanted to dominate the Gulf). Ahmadinejad's ascendance and rhetorical flourishes have effectively driven a wedge between the Gulf states, which are terrified of him, and the radicals of the Mashreq region--Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority--where ordinary Arabs are delighting yet again in visions of an anti-Zionist apocalypse, even one that threatens their own existence. It is telling that many regional analysts think Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets constitutes a deterrent against any Israeli attack on Iran, apparently without recalling that the Egyptian air force was destroyed on the ground as the opening move of the 1967 war.

This is the scenario that most fits Bashar's rhetoric and behavior, and is most consistent with Syrian policy. He has signed on to it in full as his best bet, especially since he's the junior partner in this alliance, which means he can spend on Iran's tab with the world too occupied with the latter's nuclear program.

For another take on Syria and Iran's Levantine expansion, see this recent piece by Michael Young.

Update: The Sunni state most openly dealing with Assad as a fait accompli Iranian client is Jordan. Sparks between Syria and Jordan have been going off for a while now. This piece from as-Siyasah may be interesting in that regard.