Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad, (R), welcomes Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, (L), upon his arrival in Damascus, Nov. 3, 2008. Mottaki said that his visit is to continue consultation between the 2 allies.
"Syria Will Stick with Iran"
Op-Ed, PostGlobal, A Conversation on Global Issues with David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria
November 6, 2008
Author: Kayhan Barzegar, Former Associate, Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program, 2010–2011; Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/international Security Program, 2007–2010
A possible deal between Syria and Israel will neither change Iran's current posture in the region, nor lead Syria to put aside easily its alliance with Iran. Beyond tackling the U.S. and Israel military threat in this particular time of insecurity, especially in post-invasion Iraq, the Iran-Syria alliance in post-invasion Iraq is aimed at achieving a more strategic goal: making a new coalition of friendly states and political factions, a way out of the current political-security status-quo in the Persian Gulf and the Levant in which the two states can secure their national interests. As long as this need exists, the Iran-Syria alliance will continue.
From Iran's perspective, the current black and white order that divides the region into friends and enemies, and presents Iran and Syria as the region's primary threats, is disproportionate and should be redressed. Such an order takes Iran's diplomatic and military energy and brings distrust and tension among the regional countries; it is more for serving U.S. national interests, its traditional Arab allies and Israel.
Iran and Syria are convinced that the Bush administration is not prepared to genuinely engage the two states in their own immediate security backyard. In case of Iraq, the administration rather aims to only benefit from Iran's role for daily security matters, whereas Iran aims to talk on the future security and strategic issues. This is the same for Syria. The main conflict is therefore based on how the new political-security order of the region should be redefined so that these two countries could also see their interests secured. In this way, Iran and Syria are aware of the fact that they must count only on each other.
The new political developments in post-invasion Iraq have empowered Iran-Syria alliance; they have been a turning point in terms of forming a new political-security order in the region. From a geostrategic point of view, Iran and Syria belong to two different but interdependent political-security systems: the Persian Gulf and the Levant. The new Iraq is the new point of convergence between these two regions and the place of building a new strategic depth for the two actors. Through Iran, Syria will reach to the Persian Gulf region, a place of great economic- political importance for the Arab world, the United States, and even Israel. Likewise, Iran through Iraq and then Syria can reach the Mediterranean shore, the focus of Arab-Israeli conflict. Iran's regional ally, Hezbollah, depends upon that region, and it is also a place of great significance for the U.S. Middle East policy.
Since the Iraqi crisis, choosing either between its neighbors and outside powers or trying to get all relevant actors to cooperate in bringing security in Iraq has been a challenge for the Iraqi government. Although Iraq's leaders have rightly picked the latter, U.S. policy persists in not genuinely involving Iran and Syria in the new Iraq, because from the administration's perspective, it totally contradicts the United States' national interests in the region. The administration policy is mainly based on destroying, and not cooperating with, so-called adversaries.
The Iran-Syria alliance in post-invasion Iraq is based on their efforts to redefine the political-security architecture of the region. Iran and Syria are two solid nation-states with national and strategic security concerns. The new situations have brought about both opportunities and challenges. As long as the U.S. policy of denying Iran and Syria from the region's political-security architecture continues, it is unlikely that Iran-Syria alliance will be put aside. With the Iraqi crisis and the rise to power of the Shiite factions in the region, the nature of power and politics in the Levant and the Persian Gulf region has changed and become more interdependent. Iran has the key role in the both regions. Iran has also simultaneous access to Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Caucasus, where possible Russian involvement, as the case of Georgia has recently demonstrated, can also empower such alliance. Syria is unlikely to lose Iran, a source of security, logistical and financial support, especially not in the course of the region's transformation to a new political-security order.
Kayhan Barzegar, Ph.D. is a Research Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
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