Iran’s ‘payback time’ over Syria

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Following the latest announcements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces deploying chemical weapons in an attack that killed hundreds of innocent children and women, Defense Secretary

Chuck Hagel indicated that the United States was “ready to go,” with military action against Syria, where more than 100,000 have been killed as the country enters the third year of this devastating civil war. The world, the international community and particularly the countries of Britain, France, Germany and Australia are awaiting a decision from the White House.

However, one of the most intriguing regional and geopolitical issues is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s reaction to the decision made by many nations to back a serious military response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

After a report was released by the credible international organization Doctors Without Borders, on both the use of chemical weapons and the deaths of hundreds of civilians— and following the intensifying pressure from many nations in the international community upon Assad’s regime— Iranian senior military generals, commanders, members of parliament and Iranian lawmakers publicly issued clear threats and warnings to the United States and its allies on Tuesday. Iranian leaders reiterated their political position on Syria as a non-negotiable issue, adding that any military strike on the Syrian government would not only lead to a retaliatory attack on Tel Aviv, but would also engulf the entire region. According to Iranian leaders, the United States and its allies will encounter “the flames of outrage” and “perilous consequences” from Tehran and Damascus if they carry out military strikes against the Syrian government.

The Iranian leadership’s latest remarks indicate that Tel Aviv would be the first casualty in this conflict, as a target of the response to any American led strike on Syria

Majid Rafizadeh

The Iranian leadership’s latest remarks indicate that Tel Aviv would be the first casualty in this conflict, as a target of the response to any American led strike on Syria. Afterwards, Iranian leaders would instigate as much conflict as possible by targeting the Gulf and the whole region. According to Hussein Sheikholeslam, the director general of the Iranian parliament’s International Affairs bureau and a senior Iranian lawmaker, the United States would not dare attack Syria, but if it does, “the Zionist regime will be the first victim.” On Monday, Sheikholeslam was quoted on Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency saying: “No military attack will be waged against Syria… Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

Iranian officials have also warned other Arab states and regional countries of the negative repercussion that they will encounter if they choose to join the United States. Mohammad Esmayeeli, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, cautioned other Arab countries in the region against allying with the west, claiming that Washington is not ready for a new military operation. Esmayeeli stated, “the U.S, as well as the western and Arab states and certain regional countries are beating on the drums of war, but they should know that this is not to their benefit.”

More fundamentally, Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi solidified Iran’s stance under Hassan Rowhani’s presidency by emphasizing that Iran is resolved and determined to defend Syria and Assad’s apparatuses. Araghchi stated in a news conference in Tehran: “We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region,” adding, “these complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region.” Contrastingly, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Republican Guards’ elite Basij paramilitary force, shrugged off any potential Western military response, stating that “[the Americans] are incapable of starting a new war in the region, because of their lacking economic capabilities and their lack of morale.”

What kind of military operations?

Militarily speaking, the office of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leaders, Iran’s intelligence Ettela’at, the militia group Basij and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps have outlined Iran’s several capabilities in conducting various operations. Primarily, Iran can directly launch missiles— including the Shahab ballistic missiles— on Tel Aviv. Additionally, as the Iranians have provided Assad’s army with these technologies, missiles, and weapons, they have the ability to order Assad to strike Israel in the case of an American strike on Damascus. Geopolitically, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have argued that they can shut the Strait of Hormuz and target American navy ships and destroyers. Furthermore, Iranian ruling clerics can target countries that join any military operations against Assad, aiming to alienate them politically from the region. Finally, Tehran can make use of Hezbollah as a tool to instigate violence and conflict in the Levant.

The more crucial issue, though, is that whether the Islamic Republic of Iran is realistically and truly intending to strike Tel Aviv and other regional Arab countries. By analyzing Tehran’s isolated geopolitical position in the region and in the international arena, it becomes more obvious that Iran’s warnings against Israel, the United States, and other Arab countries are merely political rhetoric. The key objective of the Iranian ruling cleric is to maintain their power. Any strike against Israel, the United States Navy, or Arab countries would be political suicide for Iranian leaders.

The latest threats from Tehran have once more reinforced the international community’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program; that a nuclear Iran is the red line.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American scholar is president of the International American Council based in Washington DC. He is on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Formerly, he served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a scholar at Oxford University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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