Syria to Become Iranian Vassal or Saudi Ally
By Ted Belman
While Robert Fisk writes that Israel prefers the devil it knows in Syria, Robert Rabil and Walid Phares writing in American Thinker, are silent on the matter. It seems to me that Israel should be backing the rebels in a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia to thwart Iran.
But, most ominously for the protest movement in the time being is the emergence of Damascus as the battle grounds for Iran to re-assert its regional authority and policy. Tehran can ill afford the loss of the Syrian regime as a regional ally and a nodal point for its projection of power and deterrence strategy against Israel. Hezb’allah, Iran’s proxy militia, can also ill afford a regime change that may put the Islamist party far out on a limb by severing the overland weapons supply from Tehran and denying the party Syria’s strategic depth. In his recent speech, Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezb’allah, asserted that “the downfall of the Asad regime is an American and Israeli interest,” and added that “we should all be protective of the security and stability of Syria.” Consequently, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezb’allah’s militants have systematically expanded their operations in Syria in order to protect the regime.
No less significant, Iranian involvement in Syria has been counteracted by Saudi support of Syrian opposition groups. In fact, the Saudis, and by extension the Hariri’s Mustaqbal party, had politically supported opposition groups following the murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 up until the beginning of the rapprochement between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Asad in 2009. True, the monarchy does not like to see radical changes in Syria; yet its concern about Iran’s regional projection of power partly through mobilizing Arab Shi’a has emboldened some Saudi leaders, including Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who practically runs the daily affairs of the kingdom, to try to frustrate Iranian regional policies and activities. Consequently, certain Saudi leaders associated with the conservative Saudi religious establishment, in conjunction with Islamists and activists from Tripoli in northern Lebanon, have supported religious scholars as a conduit for channeling domestic opposition to the Syrian regime. It is no coincidence that some mosques have emerged as a rallying place for protesters. The Saudis and their allies are apparently trying to shake the merchant-military alliance by putting communal pressure on the Sunni merchant class.
The protest movement in Syria has become inadvertently associated with a grim battle of wills between Iran and its allies on one side, and Saudi Arabia and its allies on the other. This battle may not only decide the future of Syria, but also the future of the region. The international community’s approach towards Syria has been thus far cautious and reserved, despite targeting the senior figures of the regime with sanctions. Barring a concerted international effort to support the Syrian opposition and to pressure the Syrian merchant class, there is little chance the regime may change its horrific policies. In fact, the current international policy is only deepening Iranian influence in Syria and turning Damascus into an Iranian vassal state paying tribute to Tehran.