Could the Iran deal's collapse be good news for Syrians?

Could the Iran deal's collapse be good news for Syrians?
Comment: Syrians might hope Trump's withdrawal from the deal works in their favour, but the international consensus has already sacrificed them on the altar of realpolitik, writes Sam Hamad.
7 min read
11 May, 2018
Iranian support has been instrumental in Assad's brutal murder of Syrians [AFP]
"If Iran bleeds, it's good for us."  

This is the stark assessment of a Syrian friend of mine regarding Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally rescind US participation in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.

The deal was crafted between the P5+1 - the UN Security Council's five permanent members, namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany - to stop Iran from developing its nuclear programme to the point of being able to construct a nuclear weapon.  

The deal was largely seen as a triumph of the Obama administration and the crowning glory of his presidency - it was, as it was put, his "legacy deal".  

In theory, the deal was good. At the time, it seemed to put to bed the extremely unlikely but not unthinkable notion that there would be military action against the Iranian state, whether by the US directly or, more likely, by Israel with US backing.  

In the minds of many, it shut Israel up. It was meant to silence the sabre-rattling of Binyamin Netanyahu and the alleged Israeli "war party", as well as those within the US right. 

But, alas, here we are.  

A right-wing US president has rescinded US participation in the deal, much to the chagrin of the P5 and EU, while Israel is not simply talking war with Iran, but has already traded blows with it in Syria.

Though the deal was welcomed the world over - save Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE - as a triumph for "peace", Syrians in the meantime were on the receiving end of a genocidal war. A war waged, in no small part, by Iran.

Iran, of course, has not simply aided Assad in carrying out the first genocide of the 21st century, but is perhaps now its primary author.  

In terms of the genocide in Syria, the 'moderate-hardliner' dichotomy in Iran means nothing

While Baathist and Russian jets rain terror on Syrians from above, the bulk of the ground forces fighting to keep Assad's rump alive are Iranian-led or part of its network of proxies, not to mention the involvement in large numbers of its own troops.  

Assad only nominally controls the rump state; the forces that keep him in power are controlled by Iran. The plan to ethnically cleanse through terror and organised "evacuations" the populations of liberated territories is only possible due to the involvement of Iranian forces.

Over the course of seven years, Iran's presence has grown from its initial involvement as an "adviser" to the Assad regime as it crushed peaceful protests, to it acting as an imperialist force, complete with enabling the arrival of foreign settlers based on sectarian affiliation and exploitative economic deals.  

Read more: Trump's Syria 'action' is a triumph for Assad

Even Russia's hugely destructive military intervention in the country only came about when requested not by the puppet Assad, but by the Iranian organ grinders.  

It's hardly surprising then, that many Syrians look upon the recent turn against Iran by the US government and come to the same conclusions as my friend.

How could they possibly be expected to support the normalisation of an entity that has been the primary external actor in a genocide that has engulfed their country?

At the time of the deal, many supporters of it, including lobbyists for the regime, claimed the deal would act to bolster the moderates within Iran, as opposed to the hardliners.  

In terms of the genocide in Syria, this moderate-hardliner dichotomy means nothing. 

Even within Iran itself the dichotomy seems to be a lot more blurred than some would have you believe. Moderates such as President Hassan Rouhani might make Iranian expatriates feel better about the perception of their country compared with the unsophisticated, Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad, but the differences seem to be largely superficial. Indeed Rouhani supports the same genocidal, expansionist foreign policy as any hardliner.

But it is Syrians who had to watch as the world celebrated a deal that was essentially signed with their blood.

It's impossible to detach the deal from Obama's general policy of 
appeasement regarding Syria, and it's no coincidence that the deal was struck at the zenith of the catastrophe. While it's impossible to confirm, it hardly takes a huge leap of logic to imagine that Obama used Syria as a bargaining chip to get Iran to come to the table.  

Obama had already consigned Syria to a fate worse than death, but it's widely believed that one of the assurances that Obama gave to Iran to ensure their participation in the deal was that the US would not pursue regime change in Syria.

It is Syrians who had to watch as the world celebrated a deal that was essentially signed with their blood

The result was the international green light for genocide; a spirit of appeasement that reigns supreme until this day.  

Of course, perhaps unlike its ally Russia, Iran couldn't foresee the election of Donald Trump. But, as with all things Trump, it's highly unlikely that his rescinding of the nuclear deal has any humanitarian component regarding the genocide in Syria.

Though Trump has acted against Assad's use of chemical weapons (procured by Iran), he has no will to tackle the genocide, executed mostly with "conventional weapons".

But it's also important to understand that good old "liberal" Europe has similarly non-humanitarian concern for keeping the deal alive.

Take, for example, France, which has with other members of the P5 loudly opposed Trump's action. It stands to lose significant business deals with the Iranian regime, 
including a $5 billion oil exploration project.  

And this is the brutal reality. While Syrians might want to believe that any turn against Iran is a turn in their favour, a turn against genocide, the reality is that in every direction the international consensus has already sacrificed them to the altar of realpolitik.

Much has been made of the fact that the IRGC looked to gain as much as $100 billion from the nuclear deal, but, regarding Syria, one must not forget that a huge part of Iranian intervention was done prior to the deal, and during the sanctions. But there's no doubt that the post-deal Iran has built up its presence in Syria to an even greater degree.

And this adds another dimension to this situation: The fact that Israel can't live with Iran and its proxy hegemony over Lebanon via Hizballah, and its military now physically occupying Syria.

Israel doesn't care about Syrians, but its continued hits on Iranian forces do prove the spinelessness of those who say nothing can be done to avert genocide in Syria.

Following similar action earlier this year, Israel recently carried out extensive bombing raids on Iranian targets within Syria, following Iran firing missiles into the occupied Golan Heights. 

Many see this as an ominous portent or escalation of some oncoming "war", while completely ignoring the fact that Iranian forces are only in Syria to wage a genocidal war against Syrians - a war that is actually occurring right now.  

In every direction the international consensus has already sacrificed Syrians on the altar of realpolitik

Russia reacted to this huge Israeli intervention against its allies by limply calling for "restraint", while Netanyahu was visiting Russia and said that Putin had no problem with Israel's actions against Iran. In truth, even if he wanted to, Putin couldn't do a thing against a nuclear-armed state so tightly allied with the US.

Casting aside Trump's maniacal unilateralism, Netanyahu's sabre-rattling and Europe's realpolitik dressed up in phoney notions of peace, once again this kind of action proves that the genocide in Syria could still be averted by the US - the problem is not that it can't, but that it doesn't want to.  

It could be that behind the scenes, Iran - knowing it is isolated against Israel and the US - comes to terms with them regarding its presence in Syria, or it could be that its occupying forces in Syria are severely curtailed through increased Israeli action.

The latter would be a positive outcome for Syrians. But it would be an accidental one. None of the actors involved in any of this care about the fate of Syrians.  

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.