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Peter Brookes: Time’s on Side of Syria, Iran





September 25, 2013

Printed in the Boston Herald, September 23, 2013

Boston Herald

Time’s on side of Syria, Iran: Whether it’s a civil war or a nuke race

Peter Brookes

Monday, September 23, 2013

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Have you noticed the latest thing Syria and Iran have in common?

Of course, there are many similarities. For instance, not only are they both highly repressive regimes, they’re also active state sponsors of terrorism (e.g., Hezbollah).

Plus, they’re strategic allies. Tehran and Hezbollah are fighting alongside Damascus in Syria’s civil war, and have proved critical in shifting the momentum on the battlefield in the Assad regime’s favor.

Tehran and Damascus both like weapons of mass destruction, too. Syria has chemical weapons, and was working on a nuclear program with the North Koreans. Iran is probably pursuing nukes.

But the newest thing they have in common is that they’re both playing the United States for time to advance their interests.

Take Syria. While Team Obama wants to see the Bashar Assad regime’s agreement to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal as a victory for their “red line” policy, that assertion is debatable.

Sure, the threat of strikes on Syrian regime targets probably convinced Damascus that it was a good idea to sign the U.N.’s Chemical Weapons Convention and turn over its deadly gas for destruction.

The Assad regime has good reason to fret the use of U.S. force: Sending cruise missiles through the windows of command and control and intelligence facilities and cratering runways would damage its ability to battle the rebels.

You see, Assad doesn’t feel he needs chemical weapons to defeat the rebels, but he does want to keep intact as much of his conventional forces as possible. He believes that — with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s help — his forces are capable of beating the rebels.

Damascus certainly doesn’t want to open another front with Washington. What Assad needs is for Obama to leave him alone long enough to finish off the rebels; the chemical weapons are expendable — and replaceable once the civil war is over.

Then there’s Iran, where Tehran seems to be pulling a page from Damascus’ playbook in an effort to ward off an impending crisis over its nuclear program that could lead to U.S. or Israeli military action.

(Reuters: Israeli minister says Iran is six months from a nuke.)

There’s also news that Obama and Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, are “pen pals.” As a result, some believe an opening with Tehran is possible.

Feeding this feeling is a Rouhani media blitz involving a hopeful Washington Post op-ed, tantalizing tweets and a cameo appearance on NBC News which hint at letting US-Iran bygones be bygones, including that nasty nuke business.

There’s even rumor of a possible face-to-face meet-and-greet between Obama and Rouhani while they’re at the United Nations this week for their General Assembly addresses.

So what’s changed in Iran? Very likely, nothing at all.

Like Damascus, Tehran is running out the clock on possible U.S. military strikes while marching down the field toward the (nuclear) goal line — playing off the president’s restored hope in the diplomatic option from last week’s game in Syria.

The problem is that, whether it’s the bloody Syrian civil war or the prospect of Iranian nukes, time is on their side — not ours.

~Peter Brookes

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Follow him on Twitter 
@Brookes_Peter

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