What Saudi-Iranian Rapprochement Means for Assad

Source: Getty
Op-Ed Al Jazeera
Summary
Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be on their way towards rapprochement. This can only be bad news for Bashar al-Assad.
Related Topics
Related Media and Tools
 

After months of back-channel talks, Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be on their way towards rapprochement. This can only be bad news for Bashar al-Assad. While Saudi Arabia’s stance towards Assad remains unchanged, aimed as it is at removing him from power, Iran’s stance is likely to migrate closer to Saudi Arabia’s, albeit for different reasons.

The dominant wisdom has been that Iran has thrown its full weight behind Assad and that it would not abandon this ally because Assad guarantees Iran’s strategic interests in the Levant. But Assad himself is less valuable to Iran than the much-coveted nuclear arms deal. Talks between the United States and Iran appear to be heading towards a settlement, while Saudi Arabia’s softened stance towards Iran means that Iran must give Saudi Arabia something in return for cordial relations, because Saudi Arabia remains the stronger regional player in the Gulf. Assad is likely to be the least costly compromise for Iran on both fronts.

Although Assad’s relationship with Iran continues, his value to Tehran is lessening because of some of the strategic decisions he has taken in order to stay in power. Assad’s reliance on Hezbollah to fight the Syrian opposition may have given him military wins on the ground, but it has lessened his regional political clout. Hezbollah has managed to translate its military triumphs in Syria into increased political power within Lebanon. The delay in electing the next Lebanese president is due to no small extent to Hezbollah’s wish to handpick the president at a time of its choosing, namely, after the Syrian presidential election. This is not so that Assad can give his blessing before a Lebanese president can be elected, as was usually the case with all post-civil war presidents, but so that Hezbollah can show Assad that it now has the autonomy to impose its political agenda within Lebanon.

Assad has thus empowered Hezbollah at the expense of his own regional influence. This makes him less valuable for Iran than Hezbollah. Instead of taking measures to bolster Assad’s regional position, Iran has begun a bottom-up process of replicating the Lebanese Hezbollah model in Syria. Not only is Iran establishing a Syrian Hezbollah, it is also sponsoring a process of Shiasation among the Syrian population. Those measures are about Iran’s planting the seeds of long-term clientelism within Syria so that its own regional influence can be retained regardless of who rules Syria.

For Iran as well as Israel, Assad remains valuable enough to keep in power as long as he is able to guarantee their strategic interests. But his indirect support of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has created a potential serious threat to stability in those countries. ISIS is now reportedly financially independent, which means it is likely to begin operating outside the remit of Assad’s control. Recent assessments of ISIS’s capabilities paint it as the new al-Qaida in terms of potential international threat. Neither Iran nor Israel will accept a volatile Sunni extremist group using a neighbouring country as a hub. Saudi Arabia too sees in ISIS a dangerous challenge to its domestic stability. Assad’s strategic decisions have thus inadvertently given the Middle East’s three staunchest rivals common ground. The blooming Iranian-Saudi rapprochement is partly driven by shared concerns about security in the region.

Domestically, Assad is also on his way to losing his grip. His destruction of state infrastructure even in loyalist areas means that in the future he will not be able to meet the service demands of his supporters, who will be driven to become the clients of the new warlords ruling Syria, such as the chiefs of the National Defence Force. With the rise of ISIS, Assad is also likely to begrudgingly be forced to accept a power sharing compromise with jihadists further down the line. Having less domestic control means a lessened ability to guarantee Iran’s interests. 

The anticipated rapprochement between Iran and Saudi might therefore be the shortest straw for Assad. Though this will not mean an end to the Syrian regime, or an end to the conflict, it does mean that Assad’s forthcoming presidential election is likely to be his last. 

This article was originally published by Al Jazeera.

End of document

Comments

 
Source http://carnegie-mec.org/2014/05/21/what-saudi-iranian-rapprochement-means-for-assad/hbh9

Syria in Crisis

More from The Global Think Tank

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Middle East Center
 
Emir Bechir Street, Lazarieh Tower Bldg. No. 2026 1210, 5th flr. Downtown Beirut, P.O.Box 11-1061 Riad El Solh, Lebanon
Phone: +961 1 99 12 91 Fax: +961 1 99 15 91
Please note...

You are leaving the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's website and entering another Carnegie global site.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。