Frederic C. Hof writes: In Syria consent for the country to be used as a supply and training base for Hezbollah is limited to Assad-Makhluf family and its enablers. Popular consent in Syria is the last thing Tehran wishes to facilitate.
What Iran might be willing to consider, however, is — with the support of Moscow — obliging its client to suspend indefinitely the worst aspects of his mass homicide political survival strategy. Assad will not conduct mass casualty events — barrel bombing, artillery barrages, aircraft strafing, or Scud missile assaults on apartment blocks — if Iran and Russia instruct him not to do so. If so ordered, Assad will direct the lifting of sieges and the unrestricted passage of United Nations humanitarian assistance convoys to people desperately in need of food and medical treatment.
The key question here is whether Tehran and Moscow will persist in believing that mass terror is essential to their client’s political survival. For some four years they have believed so. To the extent that the Supreme Leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had reputations worth preserving, they have jeopardized them by facilitating the ability of the Assad regime to conduct war crimes and crimes against humanity with absolute impunity. As they evaluate the Syrian situation now, in October 2015, do they still believe that Assad’s political survival must rest on mass homicide?
This is the question that could conceivably produce a new answer from Tehran. Speaking privately in track two settings, senior non-governmental Iranians have expressed regret over and disgust with Assad regime behavior toward defenseless civilians. Can Tehran reconcile the protection of civilians in Syria with its own national security interests? This — rather than some manner of political grand bargain over Syria — would be worth a serious discussion in Vienna. [Continue reading…]