Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan’s talks with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Thursday, March 29 were closed to the press, but a statement published on Khamenei's official website said he told Erdoğan that Iran strongly opposes any foreign intervention in Syria's conflict and will defend Damascus so that it can continue to be a center of “resistance” against Israel.
Twelve hours later, Iran’s Lebanese stooge, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, interrupted his Friday night sermon to declare triumphantly: “The die in Syria is cast. Talk of military intervention is over. There is no more talk about arming the opposition or about toppling the regime!”
Saturday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi announced, “The battle to topple the state is over, and the battle to solidify stability and move towards a renewed Syria has begun.”
Bashar Assad’s victory over the 12-month uprising to unseat him is unquestioned. With massive Iranian and Russian intelligence and military support, the Syrian army was able to push the rebels out of the cities – barring isolated pockets in Homs and Idlib – and drive them to the rural periphery, where they can’t hold up for long.
One observer, describing their situation as “undergunned and overwhelmed,” reported that Syria's rebels have to negotiate for hours for every box of bullets they haul across the border for their war against Assad. “And their frustration is starting to show.”
Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah are crowing over their success in derailing the Obama administration’s two-pronged policy for halting a nuclear Iran. It hinged on Tehran’s isolation by unraveling its alliance with Damascus and Hizballah and economic pressure through tough financial sanctions and an oil embargo.
Iran has come out of the woods firmly in position at the head of its bloc, now cemented by Assad’s defeat of his foes. Tehran’s hand is much strengthened for the coming nuclear talks between Iran and the Six Powers due to start in two weeks. Washington will have to pay for any Iranian concessions by starting the process of unwinding sanctions.
Responding to this situation during his visit to Tehran, March 28-29, Erdogan played both ends against the middle: He made the gesture to Obama whom he had just met in Seoul of cutting down Turkey’s purchases of Iranian oil by one fifth. At the same time, he signed lucrative deals with Iran for expanding the volume of their trade to $35 billion over the coming years.
Certain that sooner or later, Washington would slot Turkey onto the list of nations exempted from implementing the oil embargo against Iran, the Turkish prime minister could afford to defy US financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
And Tehran could afford to ignore as harmless the White House announcement Friday that the US would “go forward with sanctions on foreign banks continue to buy oil from Iran and further isolate Iran’s central bank.”
Khamenei listened carefully to the message Erdogan presented him from the US president. But he did not send back an answer. He evidently meant to leave Obama on tenterhooks until the nuclear talks begin next month.
The failure of Obama’s linked strategies for Iran and Syria resounded in the background of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Persian Gulf mission Friday and Saturday, described officially as aiming to bring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states aboard a US-led front against Iran and Syria.
In Riyadh, Friday, she heard King Abdullah place responsibility for the Syrian debacle squarely at the door of the Obama administration for spurning the Saudi intervention plan to establis opposition sanctuaries in Syria under air force and ground forces' protection.
On Saturday, more recriminations echoed between the lines of the announcement of Clinton’s meeting with the foreign ministers of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). G
GCC Secretary Ahmed Al-Kaabi said: The meeting at the GCC secretariat will focus on the Gulf’s position on Syria and the role of the US and other allies. He added, “In fact, Saudi Arabia, along with fellow Gulf nation Qatar, has called for a timely approach, including arming the rebels and carving out a safe haven inside Syria from where the opposition can operate.”
Iran’s supreme leader gave the United States, Saudi Arabia and the GCC them his answer Thursday, when he pledged on his website strong opposition to any foreign intervention in Syria's conflict and the defense of Damascus, so that it can continue to be the center of “resistance” against Israel.
It is clearly too late to reverse the tide in Damascus: Should the US have a sudden change of heart and accept the Saudi plan to intervene in Syria and arm the anti-Assad rebellion, that route would be cut off by Tehran calling off the nuclear talks and so robbing Obama’s Iran policy of its ultimate goal.
The second Friends of Syria Clinton will be leading in Istanbul Sunday, April 1 has likewise been overtaken by events. Iran, Damascus and Hizballah have left the Syrian opposition and their adversaries’ tactics behind them in the dust.
This ought to be a resounding lesson for the Israeli circles who argue that it is up to America to deal with a nuclear Iran, a much-quoted minority chorus led by the ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, the moderate ministers Benny Begin and Dan Meridor and the newly-elected head of the opposition Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz. They would all like to shrug off Israel’s responsibility for preempting a nuclear Iran and pass the buck to the United States.
Washington’s management of the Syrian crisis and its non-military approach to a nuclear Iran has left Assad in the saddle and enhanced Iran’s prospects of hanging onto its nuclear weapons capacity, while escalating anti-Israel “resistance” from Damascus.
Assad and Khamenei felt no urgency to go through with the large-scale pro-Palestinian spectacle they had planned for the Israeli-Arab Earth Day Friday. They now have bigger fish to fry.
The convoy of buses standing by in Damascus to carry an international legion of pro-Palestinian sympathizers flown in from Tehran to the Golan border with Israel was therefore sent away, and the HIzballah-led rally scheduled to storm the Israeli border was relocated to central Lebanon.