In his ISIS speech, the president stressed that the US would not enter a partnership with Bashar al-Assad to fight ISIS, but didn’t explicitly rule out working with Iran. Now the chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani, says Tehran is ready to cooperate with the US. Obama might not be, but Murtaza Hussain suspects he won’t have much choice:
Thus far, U.S. hopes against ISIS have been pinned on the group’s most palatable enemies: The Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga, and more moderate Syrian rebels. While those groups have not been defeated, their position today is weaker than ever. As such, some cooperation with America’s ostensible enemies in the Iranian military will likely be necessary to any plan to defeat the Islamic State. Obama’s non-Iranian options look particularly bleak after [Tuesday’s] shocking assassination of one of Syria’s top anti-ISIS rebel commanders and dozens of his lieutenants. The commander, Hassan Abboud, was killed in an explosion during an underground meeting. So many members of his group, Ahrar al-Sham, were killed in the explosion that it’s now unclear whether it will continue to exist and provide a key counterweight to ISIS. Ahrar al-Sham was one of the best organized Syrian opposition factions aside from ISIS.
Brian Murphy believes that “Iran is likely to be drawn into any Western-led scenarios against the Islamic State militants and their networks.” One reason why:
The fight against the Islamic State must eventually cross the border to Syria, where the militants have important strongholds. Here’s where it gets really complicated. Obama had suggested that the ground game in Syria could be led by “moderate” rebels whose main goal – until now – has been trying to topple Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Iran remains a critical ally of al-Assad. The West doesn’t want to deal directly with al-Assad to coordinate any strategies. But Iran could emerge as an intermediary.
Noah Smith argues that a reset with Iran would pay dividends both in the Middle East and in our dealings with Russia:
U.S. aerial firepower and Iranian troops could defeat ISIS, but more crucially, Iran is also in a position to stabilize the region. Assad is a monster, but if the U.S. and Iran were allied, he might be pressured into sharing power with the anti-ISIS rebels after ISIS goes down; as it is, our unrelenting commitment to get rid of Assad is assuring that Syria will remain in a state of anarchy, a vacuum that only an ISIS-type entity will ever fill. If anyone can pressure both Assad and the Iraqi Shiites into sharing power with local Sunnis, it’s an American-Iranian duo.
But there is another big, important reason for us to join with Iran: oil. The Iranian oil industry is currently restricted by U.S.-led sanctions that deprive it of Western technology and investment. With those sanctions removed, Iranian oil would begin to flow; if Iran helps stabilize Iraq, the effect will be multiplied. A flood of Iranian oil would give the U.S. the ability to level much heavier sanctions against Russia, and would ensure global oil supplies in the event that a broader conflict in Eastern Europe disrupts Russian oil supplies. In other words, becoming friendlier with Iran would strengthen our hand against the suddenly aggressive Russians.