What does the Iran deal mean for Syria?

Aron Lund writes: In the conspiratorial world of Syrian politics, speculation is rife about secret “Syria clauses” in the deal. The opposition fears an under-the-table deal benefiting Iran and Assad, while government supporters are afraid that Iran will now move to improve its relations with the West by sacrificing Assad. Neither seems very likely and negotiators are probably correct when they claim that the Vienna process focused exclusively on the nuclear issue. But it is no secret that there are those on both sides who would like to see a more comprehensive rapprochement, or at least improved coordination in the struggle against the extremists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

With the nuclear deal now signed and perhaps secure, there is suddenly room for new talks to begin. Or if they are already secretly under way, such parallel diplomatic tracks can be accelerated without fear of upsetting the nuclear talks. Whatever happens, Iraq and Syria will be top concerns for all involved, although the former may make for more fruitful discussions than the latter.

In pushing so hard for the nuclear deal, Barack Obama has seemingly wagered that some combination of trade and talks will be more successful at incentivizing U.S.-friendly Iranian politics than the isolation and military threats of the past decades. Whether he is right or wrong, it is not an unreasonable assumption. For Assad, too, today’s celebration must therefore be tinged with quiet concern over how an improvement in Iranian-Western relations might affect Tehran’s political priorities in coming years. A historic achievement this may well have been, but history has a way of unfolding at its own pace and in its own ways. [Continue reading…]

Rasha Elass writes: President Bashar al Assad appears heartened by the Iran nuclear deal, presuming that Tehran will continue to be his main backer. Many analysts say Assad would not have survived this long without Iran’s support, and would quickly falter without it.

Assad may be right, but not entirely.

While it is true that Iran will not abandon its hegemony over Syria, a hegemony that has grown to unprecedented levels in government-controlled areas from Damascus to Syria’s coastline, there is a flip side to this equation.

Bolstering Assad has become expensive for Iran, which has injected billions of dollars into Damascus, and has sent military and security personnel to aid Assad’s military operations in Syria. While it is difficult to know exact numbers, Iran has been public about the hundreds of casualties it is enduring in Syria so far, a cost that many Iranians may find pointless.

With Iran coming in from the cold, there might be political capital to be harvested if Tehran emerged as a real broker to a resolution in Syria.

One way of doing this is to keep the Assad regime somewhat in tact, but without Assad himself. For months, some Syrian opposition members have been floating this idea as well, preferring it as a way of moving forward while avoiding a post-Saddam scenario, when the US dismantled the military and the entire government in Baghdad. It is a workable solution if Syrian opposition is well represented in the new, transitional government. Iran may also prefer this solution because it puts an end to a seemingly endless war, yet it maintains Tehran’s leverage over Damascus.

Already Turkey is calling on Iran to step up to this challenge. [Continue reading…]

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