This past Wednesday, November 16, the rebellion in Syria escalated significantly.* A team of rebel commandos lead by, and possibly completely manned by, deserters from the Syrian military attacked an important intelligence center that Syria’s secret police used to combat the rebels. On Thursday, November 17, a second raid was conducted against the offices of Syria’s Ba’ath party headquarters.
One of the interesting things about the raids is that the attackers may be based in Lebanon. A glance at a map indicates that, in geographic terms, launching a raid from Lebanon would make good sense. But in political terms, it represents a new turn of events.
Both Syria and Iran have maintained strong influence in Lebanon for several decades, and Syria has acted as Iran’s forward base for the Iranian controlled Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. My best guess is that Turkey has not yet reached the point where they will allow anti-Assad activists to conduct raids from Turkish soil. Therefore, if the raids are, in fact, being conducted from Lebanon, it begs certain questions.
Have the Iranian and Syrian governments suddenly lost so much control of events in Lebanon?
Also, as recently as a week ago, Lebanon had allowed Syrian government forces to repeatedly enter its territory to kill and capture escaped Syrians. So why would Lebanon now allow the Syrian Free Army or other Syrian rebels to conduct raids in Syria?
The answers will, at least in part, lie with Hezbollah, and Hezbollah makes no decisions without Iran first telling them in detail what those decisions will be. Has Iran decided to stab their only ally, Syria, in the back? Is Iran now betting against Assad? Is Iran placing more then one bet on the same game? It may be. If Iran is indeed burning a political candle at both ends, then what payoff is it expecting?
Based strictly on the open source news available from Syria and Lebanon, I will make a guess. Iran may likely have been trying to find a contingent replacement for their Syrian boy, Assad, for the last two months. Iran backs and controls Hezbollah, but it does not trust Hezbollah with more information than it absolutely has to. Any contacts generated by Iran likely occurred without the use of their Hezbollah Pizza and Bomb Delivery Service. But Iran may not have succeeded in “going to the mountain” as they say in that region. The mountain may have gone to Iran.
It was only a matter of time before one or more senior Syrian spooks or army officers approached Iran to offer their services as newer, better, more loyal despotic pals with great new features. What particular gifts might the would-be kings be carrying to Iran?
The gift that always matters most to Iran is any gift having to do with Israel. We likely will never know, but I can’t help but wonder if the latest spy round-ups in Iran came with help from some senior member of the Syrian intelligence community who needed a bit of assistance with his retirement planning.
Experienced analysts working on Syria won’t be betting on an overtly Iranian-controlled rebel succeeding in Syria. The Syrians have fallen out of love with Assad, but they haven’t fallen in love with the archaic Iranian leadership.
People seeking “progress” are not beating down the doors to get into Iran or hoping for Iran to drop in and settle things for them. There is an Islamic fundamentalist contingent in Syria, but it is badly outnumbered. So why would Iran place such a long shot bet?
Iran would bet against Assad for two reasons. For one, it’s a low cost bet. They are simply telling Hezbollah to allow certain events to occur. Even if Assad were to survive the uprising and become aware of Iranian duplicity, so what? In the first place, he never thought that the Iranians were anything but weasels. They were simply weasels who let him play on their team. With no other teams offering a place Team Weasel, was a great gig for Assad 1.0 and Assad 2.0.
And beyond that, what choice does Assad have? Is he going to become France’s new best friend? Is he going to be invited to take a front row seat at the christening of Kate and William’s baby? Is Michelle Obama going to give him a kiss on his robotic face? No, no, and no.
Assad has no choice but to put up with whatever Iran does. He needs Iran more than Iran needs him. From Iran’s point of view, it is better to pick the potential new despot or multiple potential new despots rather than allow someone else to decide the issue, because anyone installed in Syria that Iran doesn’t back is not likely to be its new pal.
The other reason why Iran would act with seemingly little concern for its own long-term interests is that it usually does. Iran is convinced that it can continue to get away with doing pretty much whatever it wants to do. It has, at times, paid a heavy price for its petulant, anti-social behavior, but that has never prevented Iran from repeating its mistakes.
If Hezbollah no longer has Assad’s back, then it’s time for Bashar Assad to dial up London and ask for a last minute date to the prom. If Assad had assurances that he would not face arrest after killing nearly four thousand Syrian rebels this year, then he might go down to the river and pay the boatman to cross back over to the UK.
London might not answer Assad’s call, but the UK would at least ask Turkey to call him back. (“We already have a date. . . . Why don’t you take Assad to the prom?”) At a time when Turkey is desperate to increase its stature in the Islamic world and, in particular, with the Gulf States, it would like nothing better than to be seen as the peacemaker in Syria.
A bigger blood bath in Syria can still be avoided, but time is running out.
Any questions about the situation in Syria?
Click here for a recent run down on Syria, Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon