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Old Friday, September 08, 2017
Maheen Chaudhry Maheen Chaudhry is offline
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US, Hezbollah & Assad

The ‘love affair’ gets more entangled than ever


The mayhem continues. Ceasefire appears to be a forlorn dream. Russia and Turkey might have done their part, but thanks to Mr. Trump, the situation in Syria seems set for a topsy-turvy ride, again. The grandeur effect of the Tomahawks didn’t subside yet, and the US decided to strike again. On May 18, Trump launched strikes against the pro-Assad forces. The event could well turn out to be significant in ways I’ll resort to a bit later.

Jordan and Iraq were in the news because the attack was carried in al-Tanf, located in close proximity of Jordanian and Iraqi borders. So, what’s the Iranian connection, then? Well, here it goes: After the attack, an Iranian news agency reported that 3,000 Hezbollah combatants were being sent to al-Tanf. The motive, although easily decipherable, as announced was to back the Syrian army and gain advantage in the ‘all too complicated’ battle against the US. If this were to be the case in the days to come, then one thing is sure: US might become too eager to militarily engage the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If POTUS (President of the United States) does end up going down that path, Hassan Rouhani, who was reelected as the President of Iran in May 19 election, might have to do ‘too much’ to de-escalate. Without delving deep into the world of proxies, and who is currently supporting who (which requires a separate sitting, of course), I must reiterate that Hezbollah fighters fighting alongside the Syrian Army might complicate the things even more. Although, yes, Trump might be tipped to shoot from the hip every time he speaks about Iran, yet de-escalation requires all the stakeholders to be on board.

Whether one agrees or not, Iran does have a fair bit of regional clout – and, it might not shy away from exercising that, either. If the United States and its allies were left to fend against Hezbollah in Syria, the tensions between Iran and the US might escalate. But, with Russia backing Iran and Assad, the decision makers in the White House might not find it in their best interest to bring the country tantalizingly close to being at war with Iran.

Is it all about Syria? If it were to be, it just can’t get more delusional than that. Trump has all the major Sunni players from the Middle East on his side. And, the furious statements that came from Riyadh against Iran just recently, somehow, sum up the situation perfectly. It’s logical as well as natural at the same time that Iran might feel insecure, particularly, after Trump’s viit to Saudi Arabia. The visit, sans Trump’s lecture on Islam, will make Iran jittery – no doubt about it. For the rest of the Muslim world, Trump lecturing on Islam is as enigmatic as it gets. Perhaps, the earlier Republicans, particularly George W. Bush, weren’t as creative as the current President of the United States is.

Now I would get back to what I was referring to earlier. Why the US attack in al-Tanf can become more significant than actually conceived? The foremost reason is the prevailing state of affairs in the Middle East. The region has been teetering for years now, and one conflict after another seems to have made the path to normalization more horrifying than ever. From al-Qaeda to ISIS, the region has experienced turmoil beyond comprehension. And, with the recent up-shift in extremism, the latest attack in Syria might be a deathblow to the idea of de-escalation, which, of course, shouldn’t be. But, as they often say, facts must strictly be differentiated from fantasy.

Coming back to the Assad, Iran and the US connection. Even if Trump and his military advisors find it tempting enough to flex the muscles and engage Iran militarily, the prospect of agonizing Putin would be too much to handle. Remember the Trump-Putin bonhomie? What the President of the United States is doing wrong here is to view Iran from a religious standpoint – a religion (or a version of it) Trump doesn’t enjoy much affinity with, anyway. Even if there are differences with Iran, those should be dealt with fro a purely geopolitical narrative.

As per the Syrian conflict, there’s too much of a mess that needs cleaning up. Although it might not be popular and sellable, ousting Assad wouldn’t do much of a good. It, nonetheless, would aggravate the already chaotic situation. The least Syria needs is to have an extremist organization fill in the void created after Assad’s forced removal. Iraq might serve as an excellent case study, folks. May sanity prevail!


Shazar Shafqat
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