Some thoughts on the Iran deal: don’t forget Syria

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In the rush to applaud the Iran deal, one crucial issue that risks getting lost is Syria. Iran has played an entirely negative role in Syria, providing arms, men and money to the Assad regime and thereby discouraging him from negotiating an end to the war. Iran’s role has arguably been much more significant than Russia which is often inaccurately portrayed as the regime’s primary sponsor. The intervention of Iran-controlled (not just “Iran-backed”) Hezbollah troops, in the many thousands, was one vital factor (and perhaps the most important factor) in preventing the fall of the regime as far back as 2013 when rebel attacks in Damascus itself seriously threatened the regime’s survival.

The US, for understandable reasons (and mainly because it would have been impossible otherwise) has treated the nuclear negotiation as separated from all other elements of Iran’s conduct. But in reality it is not, and certainly not in the eyes of the region. It’s crucial now that the West, and the UN Security Council, does not reinforce this false separation. One important element of this is sanctions. Various Iranian entities and individuals have been put under sanctions because of their role in Syria. Are some of these the same as those who will enjoy relief from sanctions because of the nuclear deal? My suspicion is that they are. What is the plan (and leverage) now to engage Iran to urge/make them bring Assad to the negotiating table? It would be ironic, and just a little bit sick, if a worthwhile deal to prevent future US-Iran conflict (or Israel-Iran conflict) over Iran’s nuclear capacity fails to contribute to the amelioration of a very current, and terribly bloody, conflict. Or, worse, actually gives succor to Iran in its egregious and unacceptable support for the ghastly Assad regime.

There is more to say about the Iran deal, including the whole detail of the inspection modalities, which are highly complicated and only now emerging. As usual, people are blathering on about “Obama’s legacy” etc. rather than actually reading the details of what has been agreed. From the Iraq experience, the devil really is in the detail. I am already concerned that the very length of the deal is a huge problem. The more detail, the more that can later be disputed. Dispute = a big problem, and can immediately create a “crisis” and pressure on Washington to “react”. This is the dynamic that created so many problems with Iraq and ultimately contributed to the momentum for war.

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