The relationship between Iran and Syria is one that is bound by shared political interests. This relationship is very significant in molding foreign relations in the Middle East for decades to come.
Consider Iran’s geography: There are American bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, and other bordering countries. The level of American influence is most visible through the number of U.S. bases present in these countries and Iran views this as a symbol of American imperialism. This also makes Iran very nervous.
Iran does not want to see another nearby country fall to American control. Essentially, Tehran is hoping to project its power by ensuring that Syria stands and the U.S. backs down. Syria is Iran’s main conduit to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the group Iran arms and uses to delegitimize and destabilize Israel’s role in the region.
The Obama administration wants to shut down any possibility that Iran could capitalize from what could be seen as their weak response to Syria. President Obama took to the Sunday news outlets to defend his administrations handling of Syria and asserted that, “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria] to think we won’t strike Iran.”
Secretary Kerry echoed statements made by Obama on a trip to Jerusalem to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu added that, “The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.”
Now that Syria is on the verge of a U.S. military strike, Iran is protecting its strategic ally. A joint report by the American Enterprise Institute found that, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall.”
In other words, Iran is hedging its bets to ensure that Syria can continue to prove to be a valuable country to work out of and project some level of influence in the region. If Assad’s regime were to fail, Iran could be instrumental in forming a new government because of its existing level of influence among pro-government groups.
Iran is buffering themselves from the option promoted by some to strike the regime over its nuclear program. They are proving through their actions that a strike would have deadly repercussions.
Even though the Obama administration affirms that their decision to pursue a diplomatic path with Syria is not to be taken lightly, it does count for a small victory for Iran. Iran in sending troops to Syria, and Russia’s decision to send warships out to Syria have both contributed to a serious collective threat to the U.S. in the event of a military strike.
Iran’s interaction with Syria has created a complex dynamic between the two nations that make them somewhat inseparable. An attack on Syria is an indirect attack on Iran, which would result in a long string of retaliatory measures.. The U.S. understands this, and as such, they have no choice but to pursue a diplomatic solution.