Ma’ariv International reports that “the unfolding political crisis in Iran is intimately linked to the goings-on in Washington. The perception that Bush may be a one-term president is what has emboldened the conservatives [that is, the radical Muslim mullahs who run the present government] in Teheran to make a move on the reformists [that is, pro-democracy forces]. No peace talks between Israel and Syria will take place until it becomes clear how important it is to the White House to uncover the WMD Saddam stashed away in Syria shortly before the balloon went up.” (Thanks to “Allah.”)
The last thing the Iranian conservatives wanted was to provoke the US. Their ultimate fear was to see Uncle Sam’s boys cross the Euphrates to liberate Iran from a regime only slightly less bestial and inherently much more dangerous than Saddam’s. . . . Moreover the Iranian interest was to see the Shiites become the dominant political force in Baghdad.
At the same time President Bush seemed assured of a second term. No one, not even the arch reactionary Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, chairman of the Council of Guardians was willing to risk taking on George W. Bush, who had demonstrated very clearly his willingness to wield a very big stick. The only thing to assure this was to give the appearance that the reformists were, slowly but surely gaining the upper hand.
Events in Washington over the past month changed that perception. The conservatives seem to have decided that Bush could be vulnerable. As a result, they decided to renegotiate their agreement with Khatami, since they believe Iran can afford to get away with presenting a less enlightened image to the world. The result is the current crisis. Supreme leader Khamenei, the leader of the conservative faction, which is between the reactionaries and the reformists, but on the whole tends to side mostly with the former, will not take any decisive step until he has to, meaning until he and his advisors decide what Bush’s chances are. If they decide that his defeat is not a sure thing, the compromise he will arrange will favor the reformists, at least somewhat. If he decides that Iran can take the risk of assuming that Bush will not be reelected, the compromise will, in effect be an ultimatum to the reformists to surrender or else. If he decides to wait and see, he will go along with the reformists” demand to postpone the election, without necessarily acting to get the Guardians to reinstate the disqualified reformist candidates.
A hint at this was provided last week by foreign ministry spokesperson Reza Asefi, who said that the current row “could seriously impact Teheran’s foreign policy. In Iranian political talk this meant that it might be premature to assume that Bush is a lame duck, and that a premature push for power by the reactionaries could endanger Iran’s recent foreign policy achievements, primarily an informal understanding with the US that Iraq’s Shiites will take control of Iraq when the US departs. . . .
The latter have decided to take out the reformists, having decided that Bush is unlikely to be reelected, and therefore willing to risk US ire, which, as far as they are concerned, will be limited to words if Bush is no longer president. If there is one thing these men do not fear, it’s words. . . .
Teheran’s aim is to see Bush defeated. The thinking in Teheran is that a Democratic president would not have the stomach to go to war in order to save Iraq’s middle class. The result, snap elections won by the Shiites, the formation of a new anti-western Damascus-Baghdad-Teheran axis, armed with a large variety of lethal non conventional weapons,
The Iranians are confident that even if hard evidence of Hezbollah terrorism in Iraq shows up, Bush will not be able to do anything until the elections. However the one potential fly in the ointment the Iranians have so assiduously being concocting is if the Iraqi WMD that have been hidden in the remote corners of the Syrian desert were to be discovered, thus vindicating Bush and all but assuring him of four more years.
This could only happen if either the US invaded, or the regime fell. To ensure neither of these events occur, Iran suggested to Assad that he embark on a peace initiative. For Iran this is a win-win proposition. If the talks eventually fail, they would still have served their purpose, preempting a scenario that could vindicate Bush and assure him reelection. If, by some mischance the talks actually led somewhere, it would be no skin of their nose, since Syria, not Iran would be making the required concessions. In the long run Syria is less important to Iran than Iraq, since unlike Iraq, the majority of Syrians are Sunni Moslems, who intensely dislike the Baath regime dominated by the minority Alawis, who are theologically much closer to the Shiites than to the Sunnis (who unlike the Shiites regard them as heretics). Iran knows it may, and can afford to lose Syria as an ally. It cannot afford to lose Iraq.
Israel and the US however, were not taken for a ride. This means that all options are still open. The current administration is not about to see a virulently anti-western conservative dominated Iran become the ultimate benefactor of the war. American blood was not shed in order to facilitate unprecedented Iranian hegemony over the region. If, in order to prevent such an outcome it becomes imperative to vindicate the Bush administration by proving estimates of Iraqi non-conventional capabilities were essentially correct, then an invasion of Syria cannot be ruled out. The pretext would be either proof of Syrian complicity in allowing Hezbollah to operate in Iraq, or allow Israel to initiate a war with Syria over its support of terrorism.
For this reason Bush is willing to let Sharon make the road map as obsolete as the horse and buggy, despite the blow to his prestige. Both men may need a war with Syria to ensure their political survival, and the world may need it to take out another link in the axis of evil, and to prevent the emergence of an Iranian dominated Damascus-Baghdad-Teheran axis, which would soon become a Islamic regional superpower that could, and probably would pose as much of a threat to the west as it would to Israel.
The higher the probability of the Iranian domestic balance of power being shifted in favor of the ultra-conservatives, the greater the likelihood of a war with Syria becomes.