The Mullahs will pick up the pieces

It is almost impossible to predict how Syria might emerge after Assad. Many hope for a stable, democratic state. Though, instability, civil war and an Islamic state are also real possibilities. Regardless of the outcome, the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria will have an enormous impact on the wider Middle East particularly on Iran.

The heat of the Syrian volcano will be felt in Tehran far more than in Beirut, Amman and Istanbul. The Mullahs who stood by Assad for decades already faces daunting challenges today, and those challenges will multiply and grow in the near future and on several fronts.

The Domestic Front:

Perhaps the worst nightmare for the Mullahs is the implications on the domestic front. The psychological impact of the fall of Assad may inspire many in Iran to reignite a second green revolution. This is a red line for the Mullahs that must be avoided at all costs, and they would not hesitate to ruthlessly crush any rebellion. The Green movement is also watching the Arab spring, and they may learn a thing or two from their neighbors, the huge decline in the economy recently can also help their cause. However, it is essential to remember that the power base of the Mullahs and their revolutionary guards is probably still strong with no indication of any erosion, yet!

The Syrian Front:

With the potential loss of the massive Iranian investments in Syria, the economic impact of the fall of Assad could be enormous. However, the political impact would be devastating. By losing Syria, Iran would lose its strategic depth and gateway to the Arab world. How the Mullahs will respond to this serious blow? That remains to be seen.

Judging by their past responses, the Mullahs would probably resort to a quick policy of damage limitation and exploitation of any instability. The details will depend on events on the ground in Syria. Chaos, civil war, even a military quo is the Iranians’ best outcomes, as it this would give them more scope to maneuver in exploiting the situation to their advantage and allow them rebuild their links with the newly emerging power groups within Syria and to continue smuggling weapons to Hezbollah. Ironically, a stable, democratic Syria would be Iran’s worst nightmare and a Sunni Islamic regime would not be good either.

The Lebanese Front:

By throwing in its lot with Assad, the Iranian proxy group Hezbollah stands to lose a lot following the departure of its ally. Whilst it is certainly true that Hezbollah’s center of gravity is within Lebanon, and it is independent of Assad’s regime, however, the destruction of their main bridge with Tehran will have massive implications for Hezbollah’s policies over years to come. In fact, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Hezbollah views the collapse of the Baath regime in Syria as an existential threat.

How Nasrallah will respond? Can he succeed in maintaining his power?

No one can predict the future but at least we can discuss his options, Nasrallah will have a potentially three options:

a-    Do nothing:  It is probably wise for Nasrallah not rush to respond to any events in Syria and play for time until a clearer picture emerges, however, there is a risk that a lack of response may be perceived as weakness by his political opponents.  It is highly unlikely that the likes of Jumblatt would continue his support for the current government one more day after the departure of Assad!  Will Nasrallah sit & watch March 14th regain power and send his  “Brave Fighters” to the STL?

b-    War: Five years since 2006 war are enough for Hezbollah to reinforce its military capabilities. Nasrallah will not hesitate to spark a fight whenever convenient. However, this option is not without its risks particularly without the support of Syrians, his ability to engage in hostilities will be severely hampered. Any failure will totally eradicate his gains from the 2006 war and can permanently weaken his political stance in Lebanon.

c-     Emerge from the shadows: Nasrallah may decide to use his weapons in order to enforce a loyal government. Being the only armed faction, Hezbollah will not hesitate to use force in order to maintain their strategic interests.  If war with Israel can weaken Nasrallah stance, openly turning against his fellow Lebanese would be a political suicide and may even drag Lebanon down into another round of civil war.

Will the events in Syria trigger an all out war between Iran and Israel?   The answer depends on Israel as well as Iran. Can Israel resists the temptation or will be dragged into unpredictable war with Hezbollah or Iran? The Iranian may increase their rhetoric with Ahmadinejad ranting and raving in front of global media, but starting a risky war?  Dare I say “Unlikely”.

The Mullahs fully understand the challenges facing them in the new, evolving Middle East. They will continue to do whatever it takes to secure their own survival and maintain their tight grip on power. Despite their crazy rhetoric, they are certainly not suicidal and have no plan to gamble with their own future. They will pick their fights where and when they are ready for them.

Syria might trigger a grand game of snakes and ladders with numerous real life serpents that are far more deadly than those printed on the board.The US Ambassador Ford has correctly urged the US government to start planning for the day after Assad; the Iranian regime is probably busy formulating a plan too.


About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
This entry was posted in Iran, Israel, Politics, Syria and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Mullahs will pick up the pieces

  1. The Mullahs will NOT… etc. Otherwise it will be called ” The Arab Revulsion”…
    Hezbollah’s option (b), Humm,,, too large!
    P.S. I have my reasons to suspect, that Assad might prefer to be eliminated by the “Little Devil” then to have his guts pulled out by his own people !…
    Perfect !


  2. Your posts keep getting better and better. This is a difficult topic, you have met the challenge and presented it very well! Hopefully Nasrallah will seriously consider the three options you so logically present. Thank you!


  3. A good rational analysis.Assad never ever created a serious problem for Israel.Islam is the cultural identy of most of the people who live Afro-Arab countries,Any political movement will have its influence on it,Islamist movements can be actively with liberation,democratic and nationalist movements,and that is happening all over the Arab world.USA, main stream republican part is remote controlled by lunatic evangalist countries,look at Israel.Democracy is better system ,and Islamists can be part of it,Turkey and Indonesia are good examples.


  4. nervana111 says:

    I agree with Khalid comments. Challenging time for syria and for the whole region.


  5. Jon Goodfellow says:

    This is just a follow-up to Khalid’s comments. He is right on the money. Nervana- I’ve been following your twitter posts. Reading as promised in other comments here. Need to learn to use twitter though. They are very informative for me. Keep including the links. My area of knowledge of the Arab world is not as thorough as the Balkans, but I can speak to comments on USA. You folks may not appreciate just how powerful the Isreali lobby arm is in American politics. And the American (air power) arm is still long in the Middle East. Isreal will not (and maybe cannot) attack Iran sucessfully without American support. Their lobby commands abouit 100% loyalty among the evangelical conservative base (e.g. most of Tea Party) that votes in Republican primaries.

    How and whether the US supports an Isreali assault depends on the duration of the brewing Syrian civil war, how much Iran intervenes through proxies, and where this all falls in the US election cycle. This is what I meant by the “Guns of August” scenario elsewhere. Once state actors get involved, it will escalate inevitably, unless the Syrian conflict stays low-intensity or is managed diplomatically between neighboring states. Great test for Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman (Islamo-Kemalist?) foreign policy or another intervention to remove Assad before the violence becomes entrenched and sectarian like I remember from Lebanon.


  6. nervana111 says:

    Thank you. Please Join twitter. it is very easy & fun too….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s