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
Excellent commentary. We have family in Syria. It’s not pretty.
Hi Patricia. I hope that your family in Syria remains safe and healthy.
If any of your family members would like to offer their view of the events in Syria we would welcome their comments. They need not see things the same way that Piper or I see things in order to be welcome here. Hearing one view on world events is never very informative.
Again I send my best wishes to your family and to all of the regular people of Syria.
Political intrigue- always entertaining to guess which way the winds are blowing. And very scary also.
Hi Emily. Thanks for stopping by.
I rarely comment on your blogs, Holmes. It’s not that I don’t find them interesting, but rather that you have such a better understanding of the players that I simply read and think about what you’ve said.
The one question that consistently bothers me about the region is, “Do we really think there will ever be lasting peace in the Middle East, or is it more a matter of containing the madness?” I personally don’t think I’ll ever live long enough to see a real peace in the area. It seems that the political/religious factions are so against each other that it would be like the KKK and the NAACP holding hands and singing Kumbaya. I sometimes wonder if the politicians in the U.S. really believe there’s a possibility there, or if they’re just giving lip service to appease their constituency. I would be interested to hear your take on this, either as a follow up comment or a future post.
Hi Kerry. I’m glad that you enjoy my articles. As for your question concerning Mideast peace I tried to write a reasonable response but it turned into an article.
Your question is an important one so I will write an article rather than deliver up yet one more half baked blurb into the cauldron of geopolitics.
In the meantime I will say that peace is relative and that a reduction in war and human suffering in the Mideast is obtainable in our life times.
For example, Oman is not a perfect place but living in or next door to Oman is by no means a curse. Nestled between Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and with few resources Jordan could hardly have picked for itself a worse geography. Yet we see Jordan learning from it’s mistakes and trying to move forward and improve itself as a nation. In spite of that terrible geography most Jordanians hold out hope of a better future and they clearly prefer peace over war and terrorism.
Damn it. You always make me think, and usually look inside myself. I was thinking about my frustration with the constant turmoil, while there are real people living there trying to make things better for themselves. Humm, makes me look kind of selfish doesn’t it?
Thanks for the perspective, Holmes.
Hi Holmes. I’m slow. It’s hard to keep up with what all the different countries/factions and who they’re for/against, so thanks for you weekly briefing!
The situation in Syria has been growing for some time. Middle eastern borders seem as porous as our own. Do you think things will be resolved by the will of the Syrians, or will it be manipulated by neighboring governements? Either way I fear that the resolution in Syria stands a sad chance of being bloody. Lets hope not.
Hi Nigel. Outside influences will indeed have to play out.
Unfortunately for Syrians the criminals that run Iran have no more respect for Syrians than they have for Iranians.
Russia dreads an anti Assad group taking control of Syria because Russia is seen as being a major supporter of the Assad camp. Russia is indeed still selling weapons and ammo to Syria today as they have been since shortly after world war two. Putin wants a naval base in Syria for the rebuilding Russian fleet. Understanding those two facts makes understanding Russia’s response to Syrian rebels easy.
Turkey wants Russia to not have a naval base in Syria. Turkey does not like having an Iranian base in Syria and Lebanon.
The western nations hold a view similar to Turkey’s. The western “petro-pals” view Syria in terms of Gas reserves, limited oil, and a nice place for energy pipelines from Saudi Arabia and the gulf. The petro-pals naturally try to exercise influence over western policy toward Syria.
So basically Russia and Iran both want either Assad in power or a replacement for Assad that will do their bidding. The West, Turkey, Jordan and Israel want a less militant, less terrorist-supporting government in Syria, and no Russian naval base in Syria.
My assumption is that the majority of Syrians want less oppression, less unemployment, and to not be a complete puppet of other nations. At the same time Syrians have to deal with their own internal threats from the same brand of fake mullahs that run Iran.
I love your analyses, Holmes, but I usually feel like Kerry. Don’t know enough to comment. I did chuckle, though, at the oxymoron “Syrian intelligence.” I see little evidence of intelligence anywhere in the Middle East except in Israel.
Hi David. When the most brutal elements of a society run a government it is hard to see or hear the voices of intelligent people that are living under that boot. Foreigners listening to some of our elected officials and the hysteric rantings of some of our popular commentators might assume that the USA is populated solely by imbeciles and dangerous criminals. We do have some of those but thankfully we also have a lot of smart people.
Over the course of the last sixty years modern Mideast governments have earned a well deserved reputation for self destructiveness and corruption but I believe that the people of these nations have the intellect to create better countries.
Enlightenment appears to be a slow process but I believe it to be a natural process. The situation in the Mideast is grim but it is not without hope. In foreign relations we continue to prepare for the worst (our defense budget) while seeking the best (diplomacy).
Nigel,the article that you posted today is hilarious.
Thanks for the insight, Holmes. I find the unrest disturbing–both because of the plight of innocents caught in the middle and (selfishly) because of what the end result may do to our own future.
Your position that a reasonable level of peace and co-existence is possible is that kernel of hope I’ll chew on. I recently tripped onto your posts through Piper’s Presidential campaign. Glad I did. You provide a more reliable viewpoint than the talking heads. Thanks!
Hi Gloria. Thank you for your visit. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.