Monday, January 4, 2016

The Faqihnameh: New Leaders, Old Rules.


Iran appoints new commander in Syria. “Following the “large number of IRGC casualties in Syria, especially the death of General Hossein Hamedani, commander of the Iranian regime’s forces in Syria, and injury to Commander of the IRGC Quds Force (QF) Qassem Soleimani, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Jafar Assadi the IRGC commander in Syria,” the opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran said.” So, this is our new Faqih-in-Chief. Well, enchant√©, and charmed I am sure! What a fortuitous development! An Assadi for Assad? Wow! Talk about a match made in the lowest depths of the highest of hells.

And there’s no stopping the faqihs now: Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired rockets near U.S. warships in Gulf - U.S. Such acts may not make a difference for Obama & Co., but their domestic, regional and international impact is enormous. Iran is the new boy in the hood now. It creates a meaningless little showdown with America in the Gulf, and intimidates a region. Obama may not care, but there are Saudis fulminating, and others quaking in their boots. That will dictate the nature of future actions by all, and that will have a strategic impact of which the U.S. should be mindful, and which may not be positive.

But for now, it’s back to the usual fake mystified responses: “Missile test! What missile test? We never tested no freakin’ missile!” and the usual game of sanctions: Obama Administration Preparing Fresh Iran Sanctions “Nearly a dozen companies and individuals targeted over ballistic-missile program.” And the usual show of indignant defiance: Rouhani Says Iran Has Right to Develop Missiles, Expands Program. Ah the deal that keeps on... dealing. The more things change the more they stay as shitty as they had been all along.

Iran's Plan for Syria Without Assad. Let’s make this clear: Assad has long become dispensable, and Iran has for long been planning for a Syria without him. I first raised this issue back in a report published on January 15, 2013. In it, I referred to Iran’s ongoing efforts at the time to build a command structure under Assad made up of loyalist militia leaders and some new rising “stars” within the Alawite security establishment. The report concluded with this statement:

Once the new structure is consolidated, or is close to consolidation, Assad himself and perhaps some of his close advisers, might be seen as liabilities, and Assad as a martyr might just prove more relevant and useful to the cause of Alawite Pride than his continued survival. With his martyrdom, there will be no risk of him doing or saying anything that can jeopardize the movement and the new power structure.

But in order for Iran and Russia to divest themselves of Assad, they still need to be seriously pressured into it, or be given something in return from the other side. No, not the rebels, or even their regional supporters, such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but from the Unite States and her Western allies, that is, the countries that have long called on Assad to step down, and which can offer something of consequence: such as certain concessions in eastern Ukraine, or perhaps even Moldova. For now that Iran and Russia are strongly present in Syria, they need no concessions from anyone there. Recent changes in the Obama Administration’s position on Assad and peace talks come as clear acknowledgement of that.

But that acknowledgement is actually a dual edge sword. By giving up Syria, and adopting their own independent strategy vis-à-vis IS in Syria, knowing that Iran has to coordinate with them in regard to the situation in Iraq for its own interests, the administration can longer be pressured by the Russians and Iranians through Syria.

What all this boils down to, in regard to Assad is this: he is staying, not because he is indispensable, but because there is no really reason to dispense of him at this stage, and because he might still has some uses. This situation will continue until either the U.S. rediscovers a need for demanding his ouster again, and a way to convince the Russians and Iranians to play along, or at least the Russians, or, until Assad, in some fit of foolishness to which he is often prone, makes himself too much of a nuance to his patrons, and their plan to consolidate their hold on the enclave they are creating.