Rouhani – Iran’s New Broom
Since his election, President Rouhani has repeatedly expressed his desire to reinvigorate Iran’s relations with the West in order to defuse the nuclear program impasse and the resulting sanctions.
He just may be on the right track: The latest talks in Geneva have created a level of reserved optimism for the first time in about two decades.
Unfortunately for Rouhani, Tehran’s suspect nuclear program is not viewed independently from other issues that tarnish its credibility – and acceptability – in the West, namely Tehran’s continued support of Syria’s Assad.
Iran Deep in Syrian Quagmire
Tehran supports Assad’s regime on three main levels:
- Financial: Tehran’s financial support of Assad is estimated at $5 Billion.
- Military: Apart from managing “tens of thousands” of IRGC/Quds and Hezbollah fighters on the ground, Tehran conducts weekly secret airlifts of equipment and ammunition to Damascus.
- Diplomacy: Tehran offered to serve as mediator and pressured Russia/China to stop American intervention.
Furthermore, Syria is a crucial base for Hezbollah training and operations.
Iran’s involvement in Syria is raising tensions not only in the West but closer to home as well: two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia gave up its proposed seat on the UN Security Council because of the UN’s inaction over the Syrian civil war and of arch-rival Iran’s involvement there.
Syria’s No Easy Clean-Up
Rouhani is probably praying at this very moment that the civil war in Syria will end quickly – with Assad continuing to rule from his throne, giving Tehran the luxury of a fait-accompli.
Unfortunately, the reported 115,000 death toll doesn’t seem to have peaked and if Assad loses, Iran will have wasted money, lost face, squandered legitimacy – and weakend its connection to Hezbollah.More
In the meantime, Syria is becoming “Iran’s Vietnam“: a horrifying conflict which is not really its own, but one in which Tehran is “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t”.
If Rouhani can muster the courage to abandon Assad, he will burn a superfluous historical bridge that could reposition Tehran in line with its longer term interests. Courage is the key, however, for he might also lose support of the IRGC – and possibly of Khamenei himself.