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Without a Major Shift in U.S. Policy, There’s Little Hope for Syria in 2018

Jan. 16 2018

Some Western commentators have concocted sanguine scenarios whereby either Iran or Russia will lose its resolve to continue expending blood and treasure propping up Bashar al-Assad’s rule, or will be motivated to reach some sort of compromise agreement regarding the country’s future in the interest of “stability.” Frederic Hof finds such scenarios highly unlikely:

Might ongoing instability in Iran persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei to cut losses in Syria? Probably not. If he decides to toss a bone to Iran’s public, it is not likely to be Syria. The jewel in the crown of Iranian regional policy under current management is Lebanon’s Hizballah, for which Syria is vital. Hizballah’s reliance on Syria for strategic depth and for a logistical link to its Iranian home base will not decrease. . . . [Furthermore], those often described as the Islamic Republic’s “moderates,” “pragmatists,” and even “reformers” have never downplayed the importance of Hizballah to the health and well-being of the operation for which they front.

Other observers profess to see hope in the prospect of Russia nudging Assad toward the exit. [But] there is scant evidence that [Vladimir Putin] has either the power or the will to compel any such thing.

The [Assad] regime itself evaluates power-sharing in a manner identical to any criminal enterprise: as a death warrant. Although Russian airpower has been important in stabilizing the regime militarily, it is Iran that is the key to Assad’s political survival. And if the malfeasance, corruption, and violence of the ruling entourage drive millions more Syrians in the direction of Turkey and Western Europe, so much the better from the Kremlin’s point of view. Indeed, the very prospect of mass migration will fuel Russian attempts to blackmail Europe into offering tribute to its Syrian client. . . .

If hope is to have any realistic role to play in Syria in 2018, the West at long last will have to see the Assad regime as the security threat it has always been. No, this is not a call for violent regime change. The starting point for Western self-defense in Syria is civilian protection. The Obama administration threw away [opportunities to protect civilians] quite gratuitously to appease Iran. A West [committed to] defending itself will, at the very least, get serious about determining ways and means to frustrate, complicate, punish, and block the collective-punishment actions of a Syrian regime for which no crime is so vile as to be avoided.

Read more at Atlantic Council

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen