Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Iran has learned its lesson | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Tuesday, August 8, 2000, file photo, Iranian clergyman Mohammad Azadparvar, who allegedly was injured by chemical weapons in the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War, rests next to a picture of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a demonstration in front of Iranian parliament in support of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For more than a generation, Iranian newspapers regularly post notices: Another veteran of the 1980s war with Iraq has died of complications from exposure to chemical weapons from Saddam Hussein’s arsenal. The claims now that Iran’s Syrian allies used similar battlefield tactics, including possibly unleashing sarin gas, forced Tehran’s leaders into perhaps their most difficult juncture of the nearly 30-month Syrian civil war: How much to stick by Bashar Assad if the Western allegations are backed by U.N. inspection teams. (AP photo/Vahid Salemi)

It does not matter how Bashar Al-Assad views the British parliament’s decision to reject participation in the international coalition that US president Barack Obama is trying to assemble to respond to Damascus’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. What is more important is how Iran will view this international division, and what will happen in the region as a result of this.

Iran, which cooperated—in every sense of the word—with the US invasion of Iraq, has been well aware since that time that this region is fated to chaos and violence. In fact, it was well aware of this following the September 11 terrorist attacks that struck the US in 2001. Tehran expanded its influence in the region against this backdrop, and today there can be no doubt that Iran has understood that the international division over Syria—and particularly over the use of chemical weapons—means that it is not just the region that is divided, but the international community. This gives Iran the opportunity to strengthen its position in terms of the nuclear negotiations, in addition to extending its influence across the region either by strengthening its presence on the ground or by working to escalate the chaos and violence.

Therefore, we say that Assad’s response is unimportant because he is now a known factor, and regardless of what he does—and regardless of the international division over his regime—the story now is no longer about the Assad regime collapsing as a result of a possible military strike by the US, France and others. The story now is about Iran’s reading of this international division—or, shall we say, international weakness. Tehran is well aware that the region has been exposed internationally, particularly during the Obama era, while it is also aware that regional alliances broke down as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, which has seen crisis after crisis strike the Arab world. The region is fortunate that Egypt did not slide into violence and chaos, following the course of Libya and Syria, although Cairo remains in the recovery phase. As for the reputation of the Syrian revolution, this has been significantly distorted by the wrong approach followed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the Mursi era. As for the Arab Gulf, the puzzling differences of opinion between Gulf states remains clear for all to see. The best example of this can be seen in the Qatari position towards Egypt, in contrast to its dealings with some parties in the Syrian opposition.

Therefore, we can be certain that Iran has absorbed the British message—namely that the international community is divided, and is not serious about dealing with vital issues, including the use of chemical weapons in Syria, not to mention the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of the Assad regime. This is something that Assad is only able to do thanks to the blatant intervention of Hezbollah and Iran. The question that must be asked here is: What about us? What about the region? How will we deal with the ambitions of Iran in light of this international division, particularly when we take Washington’s disparate and contradictory positions into account? The US is making these costly foreign policy fumbles in a post-Arab Spring region, and Washington is acting like a bull in a China shop, particularly in Syria, where the US president’s statements are likely to lead to disasters today, and these could engulf the entire region tomorrow.

So Iran has learned its lesson—but what about the region?