Written by Dennis M. Nilsen exclusively for SouthFront
On March 18, the heads of the armed forces of the Republics of Syria, Iraq and Iran met in Damascus to publicly call for an end to the American military presence in Syria and to reaffirm their alliance against Daesh and all Salafi groups dedicated to overthrowing their respective governments. They also gave some specific announcements about the Syrian-Turkish border and the Syrian-Iraqi border. General Ali Ayyoub, Minister of Defense for the Syrian Arab Republic, General Osman Ghanemi, Commander of the Iraqi Army, and Sepah General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, appeared together to announce this continued cooperation and to give public evidence of the further solidification of the military, intelligence and political ties between their countries.
Aside from the current particular threats facing these countries – for example, Syria, which continues to lack full control over its own internationally-recognized territory – the wisdom of continuing this relationship is very great considering the opposition each country has to face and will have to face for years to come. The two great power groupings in the Middle East center around Israel and Iran, both countries driven by opposing political ideologies and both drawing to them a host of allies who share or who are at least sympathetic to their respective causes, or who at least find it economically and military suitable to link themselves to either of these countries. To Israel the United States finds itself tied, due much to the tremendous power of the Zionist lobby within the American Government and also a conviction among many American Protestants of the historical importance of the existence of the Jewish state; another more mundane reason is to protect the flow of relatively-inexpensive oil out from the Persian Gulf to Western markets. Joining the Americans are the Gulf monarchies, whose economic wealth dwarfs their actual populations and their consequent ability to defend themselves: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar. All of these are majority-Sunni states – with the exception of Bahrain – and their inability to protect themselves individually from an attack by Iran, their chief security concern, forces them to join with each other and with the Zionists and Americans.
To Iran are drawn the Iraqis – run by the Shiite majority thanks solely to the American invasion of 2003, and who can never trust that the United States will not again invade their country, or ever leave; the Syrians, who want protection against the Israelis and Americans; and at least half of the Lebanese political establishment, the largest party among them being Hezbollah, who also want a security guarantee against Israeli and American aggression. In addition to the need for mutual defense, these countries are all joined by a shared religion, Shiite Islam – although the Alawis are considered ghulat (i.e. given to excessively praising a single individual) by the Iranians. And although a majority of Syrians are Sunni, the Alawis rule the country. Large parts of the majority Sunni population saw rebellion by these Salafis as a chance to take what they claim as majority power in government, and, aided by the West, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf States, nearly toppled the Syrian Government. It is arguable that had the Russians not come to the defense of President Assad, the Iranians would have found themselves forced to do so, and because they do not have the air power to conduct strikes with impunity as do the Russians, it would have meant the commitment of large numbers of ground troops, plus anti-aircraft defenses to guard against inevitable Israeli airstrikes, along with the threatened use of their ballistic missile arsenal to something of parity to Israel and the Americans. Thus, the Russian mission did stop the war from broadening into a direct conflict between Israel and Iran, but the role that Iran did play – and that its proxies Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias played – did limit successfully counter the Western-backed Salafis.
Neither of these groups exists in isolation, but rather in relation to each other: the Israeli/Sunni group exists due to the fear of the influence of Iran upon its Shiite populations, the influence upon those in Lebanon being the concern of Israel, and the Iranian-led group exists because of the conviction among that country’s leaders that the Zionist-American combination seek to end the Islamic republican form of government introduced in 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; they have the 1953 coup against Mohammed Mossadegh constantly in mind and simply fear a repeat. Therefore they wish to keep the front line – and any actual fighting – between these two camps as far away from their borders as possible. Similarly, the Syrians want the return of the Golan Heights (whose occupation by Israel is not recognized by the United Nation), Hezbollah wants to assure that Israel will never again interfere in Lebanese politics or occupy part of the country, and Iraq wants to lessen and ultimately end the American influence upon its government and among its people.
We know that alliances are created in order to redress a perceived imbalance of power. Before World War I (1914-1918), two great alliances existed in Europe: the Triple Entente between France, Great Britain and Russia facing the Triple Alliance of German, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria and Italy formed in 1882, to which France and Russia responded with the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1894; this latter was expanded to Great Britain with the Entente Cordiale between it and Russia. Despite the object of preventing war, war did occur, the most devasting war to have been fought until that time, and it has been persuasively argued that this system of alliances was a major cause of the war; one can reasonably wonder whether the maintenance of these two alliances in the Middle East will have the same effect. Even so, if war comes, it is surely better for Syria, Iraq and Iran to face it together against their common enemies than individually, thereby increasing the chance of defeat for each. We have seen how Russia, Iraq, Iran and Hezbollah all came to Syria’s defense, and how the Syrian Government was able to hold out against its domestic and foreign-backed enemies. Is it better to stand alone against the American-Israeli alliance, or to increase one’s strength through an alliance with neighbors who have similar security interests? Surely the latter is the better choice.
This alliance, formed for defensive purposes, will likely aggravate the United States towards further imperial intervention in the Middle East – largely at the behest of Israel – but will also give greater assurance of security to Syria, Iraq and Iran. This is the purpose of any alliance and for the time being it looks like the right choice for all three countries.
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