|Syrian President Bashar el Assad welcomes Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his recent visit to Syria and Lebanon. Is Assad willingly paving the way for Iran's establishing the 'Shiite Crescent"?to Syria, last month.|
For Syria, Lebanon presents not only a political, but first and foremost, a strategic and economic challenge. For decades, Syria’s economy has depended largely on the annual income from over a million Syrian workers living in its rich Levant neighbor. Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, carefully nurtured the bi-lateral relations with Beirut, shifting from goodwill to brutal force, as became necessary to maintain his iron reigns.
The Iranian and Syrian relationship with Hezbollah developed from a combination of ideological, domestic, and regional factors. Both Tehran and Damascus found Hezbollah to be a useful proxy to further regional objectives. But ‘Father Hafez’ was a wise statesman. He kept bi-lateral relations between Damascus and Tehran on an even keel-carefully avoiding any official, binding signs of an alliance. He also kept a tight leash on Hezbollah, always preventing its entering into Lebanese politics.
But matters changed dramatically on June 10, 2000, when Hafez al-Assad died and his younger son Bashar took the reigns of power. Though Bashar sought to observe the rules, governing Syria’s relationship with Lebanon and Hezbollah, his political inexperience and lack of strategic foresight, caused Bashar’s irresponsible shift towards the charismatic Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah, the latter just having ousted the Israeli army from its south Lebanese stronghold, a move, viewed throughout the Muslim world as a magnificent achievement. Also disregarding the dangers to Syrian’s hegemony in Lebanon, Bashar entered into a fully strategic alliance with Shiite Tehran, which President Ahmadinejad shrewdly exploited furthering the Shiite strategic dream. Washington’s geniality in pursuing Obama’s incomprehensible short-sighted pro-Muslim strategy astonishingly bestowed its encouragement to this dangerous move. The US inconceivable blindness to the developing danger in this regional turmoil is unbelievable.
For example, ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have actually deployed in force throughout Lebanon. Hezbollah was operating openly under the Revolutionary Guards Command. Such is not the behavior of an indigenous, Lebanese entity. It is the behavior of a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran, foreboding of dangerous things to follow soon.
Tehran’s regional ambitions culminated with the recent visit to Beirut by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but were viewed with growing concern, not only by the Sunni Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, but also, alas silently, by the Sunni majority in Syria, who is watching in awe, the demise of Damascus’s traditional protectorate on Lebanese politics, shrewdly being taken over by Shiites, as result of the Alawite Bashar Assad’s shortsighted and, for Syrian interest, disastrous misconduct since 2005.
There are already first indications of growing discontent among senior Syrian officials, mainly belonging to Sunni sects. Feelings of suspicion and discomfort are apparently developing among the Syrian military and intelligence officers, watching with concern as Lebanon, once their exclusive playing ground is being dominated ostentatiously by Tehran’s brutal ‘Al Quds’ Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
The Bashar Assad Alawite-Ba’ath minority regime is strong and bolstered by Iran. But it remains a minority, ruled by force on a growing dissatisfaction within the Sunni majority and especially the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood, opposing the Ba’ath domination. Two issues, one religious and the other, national economic, could impose a change, if the Bashar regime continues its present trend: Tightening the Iranian sponsored Shi’ite alliance and its domination in Lebanese politics, denying Syria its traditional influence there and even the threat of Syria becoming a Shi’ite vassal of Tehran within the Sh’ite crescent spanning from Iran, via Iraq to Lebanon, with Syria being the key to the whole.
This move, if implemented could raise considerable disconcert among the Sunni community, not only in Syria, but in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and challenge the ongoing alliance between Islamic, but mainly Sunni Turkey with Tehran. Could such a trend eventually force a Sunni-backed regime change in Syria? Much will depend on Tehran’s ambitions in Lebanon and the Sunni Gulf states, but first and foremost on US Mid Eastern strategy – If America will continue to act indecisively and appear weak, the Shi’ite domination trend will continue, gain more power and weaken the traditional Sunni hegemony, a dangerous trend which can have serious consequences for the West and foremost Europe, in which the Muslim population is constantly growing, soon becoming a challenging political and dangerous security factor.