Syria and Iraq, Iran’s red lines
The U.S. and Western allies’ major campaign in the Middle East is fighting ISIS while ignoring addressing Iran’s military engagements
The Islamic Republic has recently warned the Turkish government over its military presence in Syria and for “Turkey’s dangerous policies” in Syria and Iraq. The head of the political bureau of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, pointed out that “the crisis in Iraq and Syria will move to Turkey if Ankara does not modify its behavior.” Amidst the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Iranian leaders appear to have successfully and forcefully made their point to the West and regional state actors regarding Tehran’s red lines: Iraq and more significantly Iran’s long-time protégé, Syria.
The professionally taken photos of General Qassem Suleimani in Iraq, the commander of Iran’s Quds force who normally keeps a low profile and the projection of these pictures on Iran’s TV outlets suggests a significant strategic shift in Iran’s policies to publicly project its power. According to the Guardian, Amirali Hajizadeh, the airforce commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, stated on Iran’s national TV that “if it wasn’t for Iran’s help, Iraq’s Kurdistan would have fallen into the hands of Daesh (ISIS).” Further, Iran is attempting to send a message to the Iranian people that Tehran can tackle any regional threat.
Currently, for Washington and Western allies, the battle against ISIS is at the top of their foreign policy agendaMajid Rafizadeh
The ongoing fighting against ISIS has emboldened Iran and definitely deflected attention from some aspects of Iran’s increasing military, financial, intelligence, and advisory assistance to President Bashar al-Assad, along with Tehran’s ambitions for regional supremacy.
Appeasing policies of the U.S. and Western allies
Part of the reason lies in the current foreign policies, weaknesses, and failure of the United States and its Western allies in the Middle East. Since the U.S. and the Islamic Republic have been indirectly cooperating and coordinating aerial and ground battles against ISIS, the U.S. and its Western allies came to the understanding that they will carry out a policy of appeasement towards Iran’s role in the region, its military involvement in Syria, and Iran-Iraq ties. More fundamentally, the United States and Western allies seem to have accepted and recognized Iran’s red line with regards to Assad, and are appearing to appease the Islamic Republic’s objectives in that regard.
For the West, particularly Washington, as long as Iranian leaders are assisting them in beating ISIS, this tactical shift and doctrine is viewed as the most effective foreign policy to serve the campaign against ISIS.
Currently, for Washington and Western allies, the battle against ISIS is at the top of their foreign policy agenda. The future of Assad, his use of brute force, and Iran’s IRGC assistances have definitely become secondary and marginal objectives to tackle. In addition, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have also slid to the sidelines of the U.S. and Western allies’ objectives as the battle against ISIS continues. The U.S., the major negotiator in the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), has significantly softened its position towards Iran’s nuclear program by favoring policies such as nuclear containment rather than dismantlement of Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure. This follows that Iran might be allowed, like Japan, to be a nuclear threshold state.
The West’s appeasement towards Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, among other nations, has also contributed to the emboldening of ISIS, other insurgencies, and extremism across the Middle East.
The Islamic Republic denies
Although the Islamic Republic denies that it has forces on the ground in Syria, the fighters from Hezbollah (Lebanon’s pro-Iranian Shiite movement) and Quds forces (an elite branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps) have been significantly instrumental in tipping the balance of power in favor of the Syrian government as well as keeping Assad in power after more than three years of the conflict in Syria. The powerful Iranian-backed Shiite Badr brigade has played a crucial role in Iraq as well.
The shortcomings of the U.S. and Western allies’ foreign policy in the Middle East is linked to policy and objective compartmentalization. Without a doubt, the rise of ISIS is related to Iran’s military and financial support to Assad, which has further radicalized and militarized the Syrian civil war.
This protracted conflict has provided the required environment for extremist Jihadist groups to organize, recruit, and develop. On the other hand, Iran’s rising power in the Middle East amid the Islamic State’s conflict, will be posing much more ominous results in the close future.
Efficient and informed policies: Compartmentalization of foreign policies?
As a result, isolating, taking Tehran’s role in the region out of the equation, as well as turning a blind eye to Iran’s support to the Syrian government would eventually lead to failure and be counterproductive. What is needed in order to address the raising conflict in the Middle East is a comprehensive marshal plan, which would take all the different layers of Iran’s role in the conflict into consideration, including the Islamic Republic’s forces involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. A comprehensive strategic plan is required that would tackle all the angles of the conflict. This plan should address the root of the problem, not just the problem’s effects.
When it comes to the Islamic Republic’s increasing military, financial, intelligence, and advisory involvements in Syria, another underlying factor is that Iranian leaders have clearly sensed the American President’s and Western leaders’ weaknesses. On several occasions, Assad crossed the red line imposed by the United State and President Obama did not act on his words.
Currently, the U.S. and Western allies’ major campaign in the Middle East is fighting ISIS while ignoring addressing Iran’s military engagements in other countries and ignoring Tehran’s apparent determination for regional supremacy seriously.
The most effective approach is to simultaneously address the Islamic Republic’s multi-dimensional functions across the Middle East, including its military, financial intelligence, advisory assistance to Assad, Tehran’s military involvements in Iraq, and Yemen, the involvement of pro-Iranian and pro-Shiite proxies and militias in the region, as well as Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This comprehensive strategy will address some of the crucial underlying factors behind the crisis in the Middle East, including the rise of extremist groups. By not taking Iran’s nuanced role in the Middle East seriously, and by turning a blind eye to all Iranian military activities in Syria and other countries- due to the notion that the Islamic Republic is assisting the United States and Western allies in their fighting campaign against ISIS - will solely ratchet up the conflict and eventually lead to significant foreign policy failures.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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