By Bradley Willis
With US defence secretary John Kerry’s statement and David Cameron cutting short his Cornwall holiday, we have been given the strongest indication yet that the West, or at least Great Britain and the United States, is preparing to intervene in the Syrian conflict after the alleged use of chemical weapons on the Syrian populace by the Assad regime.
With the likelihood of military strikes against Syria increasing by the day, it is safe to assume that Western leaders will soon be presenting their cases to strike Syria to the electorate.
Without a doubt just like past cases such as Libya or the First Gulf War similar excuses will be cited. Such excuses most commonly include and are not limited to, ‘our responsibility to protect civilians’ (or ‘R2P’) and ‘our moral duty to intervene’. However, such excuses have always been used to mask the real intentions of governments to intervene in foreign conflicts.
So what is our ulterior motive to intervene this time? Like Libya is it oil? Well, no, although Syria is an oil producing state with notable oil reserves, it produces a meagre 0.48% of the world’s total oil output whilst harbouring world’s 35th largest pool of oil reserves, and it certainly isn’t a case of Syria being a threat to our own national security. So what could it be?
The real answer at first glance may appear surprising, but put simply the West wants to intervene in Syria as a means of reducing Iranian power and influence within the Middle East. Iran, I hear you ask? What does striking Syria have anything to do with limiting Iranian regional influence? Well, let me try and explain.
As I’m sure most of you are well aware of, it is no secret that relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Western governments have always been far from cordial. Ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Western-Iranian relations have been cold to say the least. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war the West was firmly backing Iraq (a convenient fact they’d rather you forget).
A move purely designed to prevent an Iranian victory, which would have increased their sphere of influence in the region, and made Saudi Arabian oil assets considerably vulnerable. Furthermore, since Iran embarked on its own nuclear enrichment program, these already frosty relations have only deteriorated further, and have been seen as the motivating factors for a series of Western imposed economic sanctions and even alleged acts of cyber-warfare.
So if the West were to intervene in such a way that would weaken Assad’s loyalist forces strategic situation and encourage the Assad regimes collapse, how would this damage Iran’s regional power?
Iran and Syria have been long term strategic allies, with Syria arguably being Iran’s strongest ally. This alliance was first sparked by Syria’s support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, and has since been consolidated in a handful of other ways including a mutual defence pact in 2006 and Syria’s refusal to be swayed by an American offer of a removal of sanctions in exchange for rejecting Iran as its ally in 2010.
The alliance has benefited Iran in two key ways. First and foremost, through the alliance and what is commonly referred to as the Resistance Axis, Iran has been able to gain a stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
By using Syria as a means in which to supply Iranian funding and arms to Hezbollah and formerly Hamas (before their withdrawal from the Axis in protest of the killing of Sunni Muslims) whom would use such weaponry against Israel Iran was able to boost its prestige among Middle Eastern Arabs, whom traditionally hold Iran in a less than positive disposition.
In addition, Iran benefits from by having a fellow military ally in a region almost defined by its tumultuous nature, and hostility towards regional super power Israel, this is of vital strategic interest.
With this in mind, Iran has strong rationale to keep the Assad regime in power. This has been evidenced, for example, by the Iranian decision in June to send 4,000 troops in to Syria to help prop up the Assad loyalist war effort. If a recent interview with former Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun is anything to go by, then Iran has legitimate cause for concern.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, Ghalioun cited that a post-Assad Syria would at the very least ‘reconsider’ its relationship with both Hezbollah and Iran. Considering the makeup of the Syrian population is majority Sunni Muslim compared to the Shi’ia leaderships of both Hezbollah and Iran, both of whom have supported the systematic murder of Sunni Muslim Syrians, this ‘reconsideration’ would almost certainly be a radical change in the relationship between a post-Assad Syria and Iran should Western intervention support a collapse of the incumbent Syrian regime.
If this were the case, Iranian influence would be severely affected, losing access to Hezbollah and, therefore, its stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict and its loss of a genuine military ally, thus boosting regional Sunni rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s standing in the region. The fact that the Saudi Arabians have recently offered the Russians a lucrative oil deal in exchange for the Kremlin backing away from the Assad regime is only further evidence of this.
Now, regardless of who deployed the chemical weapons in Syria, the West finally has the casus belli it’s been so eagerly awaiting in order to try and weaken Iran’s strategic position in the Middle East.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the tragic images of the Syrian chemical attacks and make the knee jerk reaction that we should intervene by any means necessary. Whether you believe the West should intervene or not is up to you, however, don’t get caught in the trap that Western governments want you to.
The West does not desire to this out of some genuine philanthropy. If that was the case we would have intervened in the Rwandan genocide rather than watch from the side lines in an embarrassing displace of indifference. This is quite simply opportunism, to eliminate one opponent of the West, and to significantly weaken the regional standing of another.