Washington’s plan for regime change in Damascus has failed. Albeit it has not gone the way that the US and Israel have desired, it can be said using the geopolitical language of Israeli and US planners and strategists that Syria has been “rolled back.” This does not mean Syria will stay in this “rolled-back” state statically.
In Iraq, the federal government has come out victorious and pushed back the so-called “Islamic State” and demands have started for a withdrawal of US forces. In the Levant, the Palestinians have managed to form a national unity government that will change the equation of talks between the Palestinians and Israel whereas Hezbollah and its political partners in Lebanon are stronger than ever. While in Yemen, the Houthis or Ansarallah have been able to repel the Saudis.
The US and its allies are the ones in the bigger geopolitical picture that are being “rolled back” steadily. In this context, Washington is now turning to the strategic depth of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Houthi, and the Palestinians. That strategic depth is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Welcome to a New Security Architecture of the Middle East: Iran “Unrolled”
Every action has a reaction. The US and Israeli attempts to “roll back” Syria have resulted in the “rollout” of Iran across the Middle East. Iranian forces are now positioned across Iraq and Syria right up to eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. To make things worse, Iranian forces are also joined by Russian forces, the other US rival that has been “unrolled” geopolitically.
Iranian forces have worked extensively with Iraqi forces in sighting the so-called “Islamic State,” which many Iraqi officials, Iranian officials, and Russian officials all accuse the US of supporting. They operate extensively from the Iran-Iraq border across to the Iraq-Syria border. Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq have even formed an anti-terrorism military, intelligence, and security operations room in Baghdad; this is why it was from Baghdad that a Russian general informed the US government via a written warning to the US Embassy to Iraq that the Russian Federation would intervene militarily in Syria on September 30, 2015.
Turkey has also changed its position in favour of Iran. Both Ankara and Tehran have supported Qatar against Saudi Arabia. The Turkish position on Syria has been modified and it has coordinated with Iran and Russia to establish de-escalation zones in Syria and to coordinate the Astana Talks in Kazakhstan between the Syrian government and Syrian opposition movements. Moreover, the governments and military forces of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey have all coordinated together to prevent the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan from separating from Iraq, which is why Iranian Chief of Armed Forces Staff Major-General Mohammad Baqeri visited Turkish Chief of Armed Forces Staff General Hulusi Akar on August 15 in Ankara and was paid a return visit in Tehran by General Akar on October 2, 2017.
In Lebanon, a transformation has taken place as the political balance of power in Beirut has changed. An indicator for this was when Iranian ally Michel Aoun became president of Lebanon on October 31, 2016. In Lebanon, where foreign powers also have to sit at the table when discussing the formation of governments and the presidency, the securing of the presidency by Aoun tacitly inferred something about the growing influence of the Iranians in Lebanon at the expense or decline of US and Saudi influence in Beirut.
The political will in Beirut to strengthen the security and military ties with Syria and Iran has been coalescing Lebanon into an Iranian security framework for the Middle East. In part, this is how the security and battle operations of the Lebanese military that are coordinated with the Syrian military and Hezbollah should be viewed. In this regard, Israel has even announced that it will not make any distinctions between Hezbollah and the Lebanese military in any future Israeli attack on Lebanon.
Both the US and Israel are worried about the “roll out” of Iran in Iraq and the Levant. Iranian forces are now connected to a far-reaching network of local militias and pivotal to structures of the military and security forces of Iraq and Syria. The talk and reports about Iran building naval and aerial military installations adjacent to its Russian partners at Hmeymim Airbase in Syria further enforces this. Major-General Mohammad Baqeri was even quoted by the Shargh daily newspaper in November 2016 as saying that the Iranian military needed to establish naval bases in Syria and Yemen.
Major-General Baqeri even visited Syria on October 17, 2017 where in a span of a few says he visited the frontline near Aleppo and held talks with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Chief of the General Staff of the Syrian Arab Army Ali Ayyoub. From Damascus, the Iranian military sent Israel a message that Iran would stop it from bombing the Syrians as Tehran and Damascus start a new phase of military cooperation.
Israel has responded to the idea of Iranian military bases in Syria by threatened to take action to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria. Tel Aviv has been trying to pressure Russia to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military presence in Syria, which was the focus of talks between the Israeli government and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during his first visit to Israel, which started on October 15, 2017. Added to these developments in Syria, Israel will no longer be able to continue justifying its blockade against the Gaza Strip, as Hamas has agreed to form a national unity government with the Palestinian Authority through the mediation of Egypt.
The US and Israel are both alarmed by the establishment of a new security architecture in the Middle East that gravitates around Iran and is affiliated to Russian interests. It is because of this and the “roll out” of Iran that the US government is openly thinking of declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. In its renewed efforts to “roll back” Iran, the US government has demanded access to Iranian military sites and is claiming that Iranian military tests involving its ballistic missiles violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.
The US Case to “Roll Back” Iran at the UN Podium
This is why Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told the United Nations Security Council that every crisis in the Middle East involved Iran. Ambassador Haley and her Israeli counterpart at the UN, Ambassador Danny Danon, both even spent an entire session at the UN Security Council that was supposed to be dedicated to a review of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict lambasting Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on October 18, 2017.
Many diplomats levelled sharp criticism at both the US and Israel for ignoring the decision by the Palestinians to form a unified government by using the forum to attack Iran and promote Washington’s agenda against Tehran. Among them was Vasily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations. “Russia is openly concerned by the fact the Israeli and US delegations didn’t even utter the word ‘Palestine,’” Ambassador Nebenzia commented to the Tass news agency. “This is alarming and saddening because we don’t see any progress whatsoever in the field of Israeli-Palestinian settlement and, more than that, we don’t hear even references to it,” Tass quoted him as saying further about the actions of the US and Israel at the United Nations.
The UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Palestine followed the announcement of the White House that the US government refused to recertify the JCPOA on October 13, 2017. Even though every signatory of the JCPOA, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU’s European Commission, the different branches of the US government, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis all publicly verified that Iran has not violated the JCPOA whatsoever, US President Donald Trump Sr. refused to certify the agreement while saying the US would not pull out as of that point from the JCPOA. Despite the fact that JCPOA is an international treaty that the US cannot unilaterally change, instead Trump has unilaterally opened the door for the US Congress to make new demands on Iran and to impose sanctions on Iran.
There is an alliance against Iran between the confederates of the US, Israel, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Trump Administration’s battle strategy, which involves Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as partners, is beginning to unfold. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia were openly supportive of Trump’s decision not to certify the JCPOA and are following its lead internationally.
Israel has even followed the US lockstep in withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The US already had stopped paying its dues to UNESCO in 2011, because UNESCO and its member states all decided to grant Palestine full membership. Despite the US and Israeli protest, neither left UNESCO.
The Art of the Deal: President Donald Trump’s “Comprehensive Approach” against Iran
“Judging Iran by the narrow confines of the nuclear deal misses the true nature of the threat,” Ambassador Haley declared to the UN Security Council on October 18, 2017. “Iran must be judged in totality of its aggressive, destabilizing and unlawful behaviour,” she added. The key word to focus on is the word “totality,” because it represents what the US really wants from Iran.
The false concerns of the US government about the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear energy program have always been a pretext to justify the US antagonism and drive to get Tehran to act in the interests of the US. In other words, the US wants Iran to stand down from challenging its regional attempts to control the Middle East and Central Asia. This is what Washington has wanted all along and conveniently masked behind the concerns over the Iranian nuclear energy program.
What Donald Trump is now doing is demanding that the Iranians follow the US script in the Middle East and Central Asia by working to the tune of US foreign policy objectives. In this regard, the US is demanding that Iran militarily withdraw from helping the legitimate governments of Syria and Iraq, stop supporting the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements against Israeli occupation, end its support for the Houthis in Yemen against the attacks of Saudi Arabia, and give up its right to national defence involving ballistic missiles. This is what the presidential administration of Donald Trump Sr. calls the “comprehensive approach.”
The US now wants to put almost everything, if not everything, on the table. Grand bargain or not, instead of dealing with various dossiers idiosyncratically the US wants to deal with them almost all at once “comprehensively” or in “totality.” It wants to talk about Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, energy, trade, and Iranian military policies all at once. Iran has defeated Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh on several fronts and Washington realizes that it cannot withstand the steady growth of Iranian regional influence any longer. This is why Trump is trying to force the rewriting of the JPOA with modifications or supplements to include regional issues that will “roll back” Iranian influence.