Much like last week, this week saw the expression of plenty of intense opinions on Iran’s connection to the conflict in Syria. The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature yesterday tackled the question of whether Iran can be a positive mediating influence in Syria. It looped in experts ranging from Seyed Hossein Mousavian (who believed that Iran can be a crucial partner for the U.S. in resolving the Syrian conflict but that an attack on Syria will make this impossible) to Farideh Farhi (who felt those who look to the conflict as a way to weaken Iran ignore the common interests of Washington and Tehran in stabilizing Syria) to Karim Sadjadpour (who suggested that, until the fall of Assad, Iran will view the conflict as a zero-sum game with the U.S.) to Andrew Tabler (who said a successful U.S. strike could actually pressure Iran to make tough choices and, possibly, accept Western demands).
Elsewhere on the same topic, Ian Bremmer argued in Reuters that failure to intervene in Syria will send the message that America’s red lines are blurrier than claimed, a message that he feels could be dangerous as Washington seeks to seize the opportunity for progress in negotiations with Iran. Mehdi Khalaji argued that murmurs of discontent with Iran’s pro-Syrian policy are growing within the power centers of the Islamic republic, citing ex-President Rafsanjani’s remarks over the weekend as a likely proxy for the Rouhani administration’s beliefs (which, as I mentioned yesterday in my review of the Iranian press, is exactly the interpretation many conservatives have feared since Rafsanjani spoke out). Sune Engel Rasmussen wrote in the Atlantic that Iran may be more willing to watch the Assad regime depart the scene than many think, due to the complications its ally creates for its foreign policy goals in the region and with respect to the West, particularly if Iran is given a major role in negotiations over Syria’s future. And in Time, Karl Vick wrote of how Iran’s rare and painful experience as a victim of chemical weapons could further qualify it to play a positive role in resolving the Syrian crisis.
This week also saw some buzzworthy tweets from Iran, in the form of congratulatory messages from both President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for the Jewish New Year. Jason Rezaian and Anne Gearan of the Washington Post wrote about the reactions to the Rosh Hashanah tweets, as well as the messaging that can be drawn from the announcement that the social media-savvy new foreign minister will be in charge of nuclear negotiations. Robin Wright also joined NPR’s All Things Considered to share her interpretations of the messages and her analysis of Zarif. Crispian Balmer of Reuters added interesting context by gauging reactions to the Rosh Hashanah tweets in the Israeli public.
And this just in today, on the sanctions front – a blow to the increasing rigorousness of the sanctions regime was dealt by a European court, which overturned European Union sanctions on seven Iranian companies and one individual, which you can read about in the Financial Times.
Enjoy the weekend!
This back and forth — an Iranian attack on Israeli posts on the Golan and a widespread Israeli response against numerous Iranian targets in Syria — was not a one-off flare-up or a case of hot heads prevailing. This is part of a structural conflict unfolding between Israel and Iran in Syria.
There is a pathway to containing and deterring Iran in Syria ... but it requires more than just Israel’s itchy trigger finger and cheerleading from the sidelines by Arab autocracies.