Will the Trump-Putin Summit Lead to Some Pushback Against Iran in Syria?

, July 16, 2018

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Amir Taheri is an Iranian commentator, living in exile in London, who is a harsh critic of the Iranian regime. He used to be editor of the Iranian daily newspaper Kayhan and has written multiple books on Iran, including a biography of Ayatollah Khomeini.

This week, Amir Taheri wrote a tweet that was very harsh, but very insightful at the same time. He tweeted:

President Rouhani exposes as a lie Obama’s claim that there is a moderate faction in Khamenei’s regime. Rouhani now threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz and endorses Khamenei’s call for the elimination of Israel. The wolf sheds the lamb coat given to him by Obama.

Why did Taheri give such an animated response? Perhaps the answer to that is that contending that Iran was now more moderate was the key to marketing the famous Iran agreement in 2015, known as the JCPoA.

Two years ago, David Samuels wrote a lengthy analysis in the New York Times Magazine of the role of Ben Rhodes in the foreign policy of President Obama. One of the central ideas that comes through his analysis is that the whole idea of pushing the Iran agreement and presenting it to the American people and the world came through the prism of the Iranian elections in 2013, when Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president. The idea was: now that a moderate was coming to power Iran would be prepared to put new limits on its nuclear program and perhaps even create the context for pulling back from its drive for nuclear weapons.

Of course anyone who understood the role of Hassan Rouhani in the past would know that this was a false assumption.

It is known that under Rouhani’s presidency, Iran continued its drive for regional hegemony and continued to increase the number of areas under its influence in Africa and South America, exporting the Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East, which is called for in the Iranian Constitution. Iran in recent years has been dispatching Shiite militias from diverse countries around the Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Yemen, to the battlefield in Syria. In 2013, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, laid out a plan that these various militias in Syria be combined into a 150,000-man army. Iran was moving to not only dominate the Middle East, and achieve hegemony in the Middle East, but to have the capabilities to actually conquer much of this region.

As can be seen, Rouhani was not a moderate, but he was a fox. He knew how to maneuver gullible Western diplomats into helping him achieve Iran’s goals in nuclear negotiations. Indeed, if Iran was moving in the direction of moderation as was asserted back in 2015, and as the Iranians themselves try to convince Western audiences, then you would have seen Iran pull back from all its foreign commitments. What we have seen is that Iran has doubled down with its Shiite militias.

In recent weeks, President Bashar Assad of Syria has completed the reconquest of his country, defeating various jihadi forces, like ISIS. It might be expected that under these circumstances, Iran would withdraw from Syria, as even called for at one point by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. But Iran is not leaving Syria.  Iran is digging into Syria and expects international support for remaining there. Iran is seeking to consolidate what it has won in the Syrian civil war. It is known that the Iranians want to establish a crescent of influence from the Iranian and the Iraqi border across the region to the Mediterranean Sea, and therefore have a supply line for this massive military operation that it is planning. It should be everyone’s hope that in the upcoming meeting between President Trump and President Putin, an effective plan will be proposed for halting the spread of Iranian power and pushing Iran finally out of Syrian territory.

Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.