Will Iran Protect Its Ally?

by Patrick Appel

Eli Lake reports on Iran’s response to America attacking Syria:

Recent U.S. intelligence assessments are not entirely comforting, but one silver lining is that for now the government’s analysts do not expect Iran to attempt terrorist attacks outside the Middle East or Afghanistan in the event of limited U.S. air strikes on Syria, according to U.S. officials who spoke with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity. Although Iran as recently as 2011 plotted a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., a statement Wednesday from the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hinted that Iran would focus retaliation inside the Middle East.

Larison thinks bombing Syria will make war with Iran more likely:

A direct attack on Syria would make it virtually impossible for Rouhani to pursue a more conciliatory course, which in turn makes conflict with Iran more likely in the coming years. Iran might not respond militarily to an attack on its ally, but if hard-liners in Tehran are as blinkered as our own “credibility”-obsessed politicians they very well might feel that they have to respond or risk being perceived as weak. Whether Iran retaliates or not, Rouhani will be in no position to offer concessions, and Iran hawks here will use this to justify their own demands for even more sanctions and more aggressive measures against Iran’s nuclear program.

Karim Sadjadpour has a useful primer on Iran’s alliance with Syria. A section on Iran’s strategic interests:

Syria has been Tehran’s only consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Whereas the rest of the Arab world supported, and in some cases bankrolled, Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, Hafiz al-Assad’s Syria sided with Tehran. While Iranian and Syrian tactical interests have occasionally diverged during the last three decades, on macro-strategic issues the two regimes have more often worked in unison.

Beyond its political support, Syria is also critical to Iran in that it provides it a geographic thoroughfare to Lebanese Shi`a militia Hizb Allah, which is one of the crown jewels of the Iranian revolution. Both Syria and Hizb Allah are crucial elements of Iran’s resistance alliance, and much of Hizb Allah’s armaments are thought to emanate from Iran via the Damascus airport.

Iranian motivations in keeping the al-Assad regime in power are also driven by deep concerns about the composition of a post-Assad government. Given Syria’s overwhelming Sunni Arab demographic majority, Iran fears the prospect of Syria being rendered a Sunni sectarian regime aligned with Saudi Arabia or the United States and hostile to Shi`a Iran. While visiting Damascus in August 2012, former Iranian Supreme National Security Adviser Saeed Jalili stated that “Iran will absolutely not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be a main pillar, to be broken in any way.” In other words, if the ends are opposing the United States and Israel, almost any means are justified.