Friday, 26 September 2014

Tehran to America: ‘Thank you Great Satan!’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lifts his hands in prayer following his address at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2014 in New York City. (Photo: AFP-John Moore)
Published Friday, September 26, 2014
“Transforming a threat into an opportunity,” is a simple six-word principle that summarizes Iran’s approach toward the recent developments in the region. The US “aerial return” as described by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has no doubt raised an alarm among the Resistance axis, which is now seeking to invest in the results [of the airstrikes on ISIS] in a way that suits its interests.

The US-led international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) opened the door to intense discussions in Iran about the operation’s ultimate goal and results. While analysts, military and security bodies, and the political leadership tried to approach this new offensive on the region from their own perspectives, they all agreed on a common question: Are the Americans this stupid to do us such a favor?
The answer is, “no, of course not.” Hence, there must be some other motives that have yet to reach the surface, and which need to be revealed.
This question is justified based on the following concept: If ISIS and its affiliated groups consider Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime as their main enemy, then any strike against the terrorist group, in any shape or form, will no doubt benefit these parties. What happened that made the United States take such an action?
Iranian sources attributed the US decision to events that started about a year and a half ago. At the time, the West complained about the increase of extremist elements within the Syrian opposition. After communication increased between the Americans and their regional allies, a solution was finally reached, taking the shape of a so-called “moderate” Islamic front that would strike both extremist groups and the Syrian regime. But the plan was not destined to succeed. This was followed by drastic developments that led to the fall of Mosul in the hands of ISIS.
Washington wagered on blackmailing Iran and the Iraqi regime, under the threat of ISIS which captured Samarra and advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad, Najaf, and Karbala. However, US hopes floundered after the fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani who called for defensive jihad and following the major advances made by paramilitary Iraqi groups.
The sources believe that US President Barack Obama formed the anti-ISIS coalition because he lacked other alternatives and not because he had reached a conviction based on thorough consideration. He had to take this decision after ISIS got out of control and began to pose an imminent threat to US interests in the region, as it advanced toward Erbil and the Saudi borders.
This could explain why the United States estimated that the operation would take three years, which means that Washington launched a military process, not a military operation per say, and is seeking to invest its military efforts in politics, even though it does not actually have a clear perspective on how to accomplish that.
For its part, Iran was quick to take two measures. The first was precautionary, as it reinforced its influence in the region extending from Baghdad to the Saudi borders, including the holy places in Samarra, and increased the deployment of the Revolutionary Guards at the Iranian-Iraqi borders.
Tehran also demonstrated its ability to protect its own interests, proven by the Amerli battle (the town’s name is originally Emir Ali) with the important significance of al-Quds Brigade commander, Iranian General Qassem Suleimani being personally on the ground. The liberation of the town by Iraqis under Iranian command, and refusing all US offers for aerial support, was a clear message to Washington that “Iran is capable to protect its allies.”
The second measure was cautionary, as Iran drew a number of red lines, threatening to turn the table on everyone in Iraq and Syria if they are crossed. This includes refraining from targeting the Syrian regime and getting the latter’s approval before launching any strikes inside Syria.

Today, Iran is putting its hand on the trigger as it observes the surrounding developments and considers a range of complicated calculations. Tehran is well aware that the Americans will not be doing any favors to the Resistance axis, and they will try to put the regions targeted in the military operation, under the control of pro-American groups.
While it does not appear that the Americans are capable to realize any of their plans in Iraq, they have constantly been trying, along with their allies, to take such steps in Syria, but without success. So what has now changed?
Iran is aware that the battles are taking place in regions beyond its control and against parties that are unaffiliated to it, so the losses borne in that war will not be at its expense.
Meanwhile, the top command in Iran decided not to take part in the international coalition for multiple reasons, including the fact that its participation would contradict with the image that Tehran tries to promote about itself as an adversary to the United States. In addition, although Iran and the coalition have a common interest in targeting ISIS, Tehran views this intersection of interests as temporary, because the ultimate goals of the coalition contradict with the Iranian plans for the region.
Another theory suggests that by not joining the coalition, Iran maintains a larger margin to maneuver, and remains capable to invest in the results of the coalition’s strikes. Most importantly, Iran’s abstention would prove that this is not a Sunni- Shia conflict, but a conflict of plans and interests, since the disputing parties are of the same racial and sectarian background (ISIS, al-Nusra Front, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, and Qatar).
The third aspect of the Iranian approach is based on the belief that the international coalition contains so many contradictions that will eventually lead to its downfall, or at least its unraveling. The coalition includes parties like Saudi Arabia, the founder and promoter of ISIS, the group now threatening the house of Saud, and Turkey, the regional security, logistic, and military sponsor of ISIS, which after the many Turkish defeats in the region, constitutes the most important card that Ankara possesses in the region.
Then comes Egypt which is insisting on adding the Muslim Brotherhood to the list of targets as a terrorist organization, and believes that priority should be given to Sinai, Libya, and Sudan. The coalition also includes Qatar, the official sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, now under twice the pressure from the Gulf and the United States. Meanwhile, Jordan is acting as an advance defense line for Israel. The country had to throw itself in this conflict after receiving a public promise by the occupation army to take immediate actions to defend Jordan in case ISIS reaches its territory.
What would happen if the international coalition takes advantage of the airstrikes on Syria to deal a severe blow to the regime? Iranian sources said this question emanates from the fact that the United States had in the past taken a decision to strike the Syrian regime, and it was only waiting for a pretext that ISIS could provide it with.
The sources, however, deemed this assumption as “wrong” because they do not think America needs a pretext to bomb the Syrian regime if it wanted to, explaining that although chemical arms offered a stronger pretext in the past, war did not happen. In addition, Washington does not lack the force to strike the Syrian regime, but what held it back was, according to the sources, the deterrent power of the Resistance axis that continues “to grow.”
Up until now, the American operation is going according to “restrictions” that Iran deems “safe and unthreatening.” Besides, US actions further uncovered an American political knot preventing it from putting boots on the ground, which is actually weighing in on the United States and tying its hands.
An observer recalled the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2002, explaining that, “While US bombs were falling on Kabul and Baghdad, Iranians were saying “Thank you, Great Satan!” The regimes of Taliban and Saddam have both fallen after they were originally set to block the expansion of Iranian hegemony.” Will this be happening again?
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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