Iranian Revolutionary Guard raises spectre of broader Middle East conflict if U.S. attacks Syria
Earlier this year, British journalist Robert Fisk told the Georgia Straight that the war in Syria was really about Iran.
Fisk, who has covered the Middle East for three decades, was on his way to Vancouver for a speaking engagement.
“I believe that much of the support given to the rebels to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is an attempt to destroy Iran’s only Arab ally,” he said.
Fisk dismissed any suggestion that Iraq, which is also controlled by a Shia-led government, was on par with Syria as an Iranian ally.
He maintained that Iraqis, after shedding so much blood in a civil war, do not want to be governed from Tehran. He also cited religious differences between Shia scholars in Iraq and Iran.
Given the good relations between Syria and Iran, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mohammad Jafari, is threatening retribution on a wider scale if the U.S. attacks its ally.
You can read Jafari's comments here.
Moreover, Iranian parliamentarians have travelled to Syria and Lebanon to "condemn the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups", according to Agence France Presse.
The U.S. says it has proof that the government of Bashar al-Assad, and not the rebels, used poison gas on its citizens. Today, President Barack Obama said that he will seek congressional approval to attack Syria for doing this.
Syria is a relatively small country of 20 million, so it's easy to see why Obama might think that a U.S. strike won't have broader ramifications.
Iran, on the other hand, is home to 75 million people and borders the Persian Gulf, which narrows into the Strait of Hormuz at its eastern point.
According to the University of Tulsa's Roger J. Stern, the United States spent an incredible $8 trillion protecting the strait, which links the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, between 1976 and 2007. This is despite the fact that less than 10 percent of all oil travelling through the Strait of Hormuz makes it to the United States.
If Iran cuts off this oil choke point, it will have broader ramifications for the global economy. This will no doubt become an issue for some U.S. legislators when it comes time to debate the proposed attack on Syria, particularly if the stock markets are in a freefall.
Iran has threatened to stop oil shipments through the strait in the past.
Keep in mind that the Carter Doctrine, proclaimed by then-president Jimmy Carter in 1980, calls upon the U.S. to use military force—"if necessary"—to protect national interests in the Persian Gulf.
Expect some debate over whether 10 percent of the U.S. oil supply is, in fact, a national interest worth protecting. Another U.S. concern is the government of Saudi Arabia, which is a bitter enemy of Iran. Israel, a major U.S. ally, has huge issues with Hezbollah, the Shia movement in neighbouring Lebanon that is on extremely good terms with the Iranians and the Assad regime.
Iran is economically on its knees right now, and it has just elected its most moderate presidential candidate, Hassan Rouhani, to rule the country. That would suggest there won't be a broader war.
But the wild card is the Revolutionary Guard, which is the ideological force of more than 100,000 defending the Islamic revolution and permeating the national economy. Its leaders have suffered the fallout from western sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear program. Forbes recently reported that the U.S. is intent on destroying the currency, the Iranian rial.
The Revolutionary Guard's loyalty is to the supreme religious leader, Ayotollah Ali Khameini. According to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the elected president has little influence over this military force.
It's one of many complicated aspects to this story.
To get a better sense of the relationships in the Middle East, check out the diagram above, which was transmitted over The Big Pharoah's Twitter account.
It reveals that the U.S. and al-Qaeda have become unlikely allies in the fight against Assad.