I was asked my opinion of what effect the incipient deal with Iran might have on the situation in Syria and I found that my thoughts went well beyond comment length so I decided to put them here.
Here’s how I would characterize the deal with Iran. It might be unfair. There’s nothing really binding in the deal, it’s unverifiable, and it’s unenforceable. In essence, it’s a joint press release. The Iranians receive an implicit acceptance of their “right to enrich”, they’ll continue to develop their Arak heavy water reactor which, coincidentally, produces plutonium which can be used to produce nuclear weapons, and receive a certain amount of money. The West receives a promise that Iran will reduce highly enriched uranium stocks of unknown quantity to LEU (which could later to re-enriched to HEU) and increased access by inspectors to sites that comprise an unknown proportion of their nuclear development along with the impression that there will be further talks down the road, something the Iranians vehemently deny.
What effect will that have on the situation in Syria? If you assume (as I do) that Israel will not attack Iran on its own, it gives the Iranians six months of breathing room during which they’ll have a largely free hand. That includes continuing to assist Assad in his putting down of the rebellion against him in which they’re already heavily involved.
What I think is more interesting is what effect the agreement with Assad has had on the Iranians. Consider the parallels. Both are reprehensible, repressive, illiberal regimes with one overwhelming imperative: regime survival. Assad gave up something not particularly important to him, his stock of chemical weapons or, at least some of his stock since we have no way of verifying how forthcoming he’s been, in exchange for avoiding the consequences of his use of checmical weapons (if, indeed, he did use chemical weapons) and ensuring his primary imperative: regime survival. And the Assad regime is putting down the rebellion against it:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army was shelling rebel positions that had halted its advance.
The army has “apparently decided to use overwhelming force,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The advance into Nabuk comes a day after the army secured the nearby town of Deir Attiya, and follows its recapture of the strategic town of Qara, which led to thousands of refugees flooding into neighbouring Lebanon.
A Syrian security source said the army had only Nabuk, nearby Yabroud and a handful of surrounding villages left to capture before securing the Qalamoun region completely.
“If this town is captured, all we’ll have left is Yabroud and some other villages to completely block off the border with Lebanon and to stop any entrance or exit of rebels into Lebanon,” the source said.
“The next phase will be to retake the south (of Syria). The north and the east are for later,” he added, referring to areas under the control of the rebels or of Kurdish militia.
They clearly believe they’re winning:
(Reuters) – Prime Minister Wael Halki said on Saturday Syrian government forces were winning the war with rebels and would not rest while a single enemy fighter remained at large.
Maintaining Syria’s unyielding response to Western calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, Halki said the era of “threats and intimidation has gone, never to return, while the era of victory and pride is being created now on Syrian soil”.
He was speaking during a visit to Iran, which has provided military support and billions of dollars in economic aid to Assad during a 2-1/2-year-old civil war which has killed 100,000 people and shows little sign of being halted by diplomacy.
The United Nations said on Monday that a long-delayed “Geneva 2” peace conference would go ahead on January 22. The government and the political opposition have both said they will attend, but rebel fighters on the ground have scorned the talks.
Assad, whose forces have consolidated their hold around Damascus and central Syria this year, faces little internal pressure to make concessions to his opponents as long as he maintains military momentum and Iranian support.
So, here’s the blueprint for dealing with the West that has emerged. The West is sufficiently desperate for a deal and gullible enough that you can offer something only peripherally related to your primary objective and that’s unverifiable. In return you have successfully stood down the combined power of the Western nations, something good for a certain amount of street cred in the Middle East, you can escape accountability for past infractions, and you can continue to pursue your primary objective. If Moammar Qaddaffi had followed that blueprint, he’d probably still be in charge of Libya today.