Yesterday evenings Syrian response resolution’s passage underscored the Obama administration and Senate Democrats haste to act upon a situation only getting worse. The measure passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday evening and brings us one step closer to a response in Syria.
The resolution passed 10 – 7, and face opposition from five Republicans, two Democrats, and one vote of “present” from Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass. The measure gives the President the ability for a limited military strike within 90 days. But as President Obama weighs his options, most likely a missile strike on weapons facilities, the administration should consider the options other actors are assessing. Quite simply, President Obama is not the only person with something to prove with by a military response to the situation in Syria.
It was extremely evident during Tuesdays Senate hearing on Syria that U.S. officials expect a response from Syria and possibly outside regimes after a strike. However, Secretary of State John Kerry stated he believes a response would be limited. Considering the actors in the region, many believe that it could actually be a fatal error, emboldening Al Qaeda associated rebels and Syria’s closest ally Iran. Moreover, freshly vetted Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, has a lot of stake if an impending strike in Syria came to fruition.
Considering the factors an Iranian military response to a strike in Syria is about as likely as the strike the U.S. plans to carry out itself. Rouhani has beaten the war drums in response to the U.S. Administration’s condemnation of Syria. This being his first year as President, it would not be in his interest to simply accept a military strike on his most valuable allies’ soil. The reasons for his indignation are numerous.
Rouhani, who assumed power Aug. 3, 2013 is a member of the Shia school of Islam whereas Assad is an Alawite, a Syrian sect of Shia Islam. A bond that shared among many of the citizens in both countries. Iran is comprised of over 90 percent Shia Muslims. What is worrisome is only 50-60 percent of Syria is comprised of Shia Muslims or Alawite. It would behoove Rouhani to keep their closest allies’ regime the same religion, and a strike on Syria could threaten the current regimes balance of power.
Then there is the simple fact that top-level officials in Iran have vowed a military response on American assets in the Middle East and their allies. That level of rhetoric has largely died in the past week, but that is not to say it never occurred. Most notably the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated last week during a speech, "I believe the Americans are making mistakes in Syria and they have felt the impact and will certainly suffer loss.” Whether that will be at the hands of an Iranian counterstrike is unclear.
Rouhani, most likely in an effort to quell international fears of escalation, made statements claiming their readiness to offer humanitarian aid to Syria after a U.S. strike. Surprisingly not mentioning anything about a military response. He did mention supplying his Syria with arms however, which should be noted as a grave concern considering the Iranian arsenal. But of course that is not to say Rouhani may not exercise other avenues for a strategic response.
Concerns have risen from Iran’s proxy military Hezbollah. The Shiite Militia that operates mainly out of Lebanon has always been a tool of the Iranians and has been extremely resentful over an impending U.S. response to Syria. With this in mind, they have drummed up tensions between them and neighboring Israel, vowing a retroactive strike. This would greatly complicate the overall situation, and seems the most likely response in the wake of a U.S. strike.
The commitment Iran has to Damascus seems to be largely overlooked in the past few weeks. Even if their response to an operation in Syria never occurs, Hezbollah does not strike Israel, and the Syrian government is not flooded with the weapons of its allies, the face of this Middle Eastern theater will change. President Hassan Rouhani will certainly not want to look fragile to his citizens by allowing a strike to go unchallenged. As a result, the international community should expect a much harsher and nuclear-armed Iran in the following months.