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Speaking to reporters upon arrival in the Syrian capital, Jalili said that “kidnapping innocent people is not acceptable anywhere in the world.” Apparently, it was acceptable to the thugs who came to power in Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Now the Iranian government has lodged a protest with the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents the U.S. interests in Iran since Tehran and Washington severed diplomatic relations in 1980. Reza Zabib, director general of the North America Bureau of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, told the Swiss envoy that Washington is responsible for the lives of the Iranian nationals kidnapped while on pilgrimage in Syria.
The conventional thinking is that the toppling of Assad would represent a major strategic setback for Iran. For example, Gareth Stansfield, from the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House said that “if Assad goes, he will [be] replaced by a government that is likely to be totally antipathetic to Iran’s wider interests.”
It is such thinking which animates the Obama administration’s latest example of leading from behind as it works with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, France, and the United Kingdom to support the armed opposition in bringing down Assad. The trouble with the conventional thinking is that it does not take account of al Qaeda’s increasing role in the armed opposition. It also assumes an orderly succession, when it is more likely there will be a vacuum resulting from the chaos following Assad’s downfall that will be opened to Islamist extremists in Syria to fill.
Lest anyone think that al Qaeda and Iran are mortal enemies, our own Treasury Department has said otherwise. In July 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department accused Iran of making a “secret deal” with a branch of al-Qaeda to channel funds and manpower through Iranian territory to facilitate the group’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The least bad choice among the undesirable alternatives at hand is to stay on the sidelines, unless Assad’s chemical weapons come into play or al Qaeda begins to gain the upper hand. Let the Syrian civil war and the wider proxy war being played out among Turkey, the Gulf states, and Iran drag on. The longer Iran remains bogged down in the Syrian civil war and alienates the Syrian people by supporting the increasingly isolated Assad, the more it has to lose.
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