Why have the US and its allies plus Israel not intervened in Syria in order to topple Assad’s regime? Many Arab countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia especially, have been trying to get the US and its allies in NATO to intervene in Syria militarily. Syrian opposition leaders also have been hopeful that the level of violence enacted by the Syrian Army, as well as the Free Syrian Army, will persuade NATO to get involved in Syria militarily, in a scenario similar to Libya; Burhan Ghlioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said clearly that “[a]ny political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime. According to the Syrian Opposition, 14,000 people have been killed, yet NATO has not yet shown any intention to intervene. Iran, from the other side, is trying hard to prevent Assad’s fall at the cost of losing its reputation in the Middle East as a defender of national sovereignty against the West and the most important anti-US and Israel voice.
It is worth reconsidering the assumed reasons for which Iran is backing Assad to the extent of standing against the entire Arab world and international community. The common analysis is that “the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran due to alliance with Syria is the centerpiece of Iran’s expanding sphere of influence, a mini-Comintern that includes such clients as Iranian armed and directed Hezbollah” or call Syria “Iran’s Achilles.” However, I believe that the fall of Assad would not change this picture; as long as the Golan Heights are in the hand of Israel, any regime in Syria is going to naturally ally with Iran and Hezbollah, the two most important anti-Israeli forces in the region. It is not, then, rational that Iran has risked its relation with the future Syrian government for the sake of the very unstable Assad. In spite of what other analyses assert, the Assad alliance is not critical to Iran’s security nor determinant in any possible future conflict with the US and Israel. Iran does not want the fall of Assad for one very important reason: to avoid coining a pattern of regime change in the region.
The pattern the Islamic Regime wants to avoid is this: if the people stage an uprising against an undemocratic regime, and after some time the regime leans toward violent repression of the uprising, the West is expected to intervene topple the regime. The Islamic regime knows well that the fall of Assad through a pattern like the one seen in Libya can make Iran a target for the US and its allies. Moreover, any success of regime change in Syria can inspire Iranians to increasingly consider this pattern of regime change for their own country and initiate action on that basis. People can learn from each other, specially when they are from the same region; after Libya, another successful military intervention in Syria can lead Iranians who have experienced a lack of support by the US in June 2009 uprisings in Iran toward reconsidering to initiate new rounds of uprisings hoping a western intervention; this is what has convinced the Islamic Republic of Iran to support Assad’s regime in any cost.
With the Arab League eager for military intervention, now is the best time for the US (and Israel) to stage a military intervention; if the US can topple Assad, dismantle Iran, thereby weakening its proxies in Lebanon (Hezbollah) as the most powerful anti-Israeli force in the Arab world, and also Hamas in Palestine, the US will get the whole package of oppositional power centers. However, US reticence in seizing this opportunity is straightforward: Syria is not important to the US and its allies. In spite of strong propaganda, the West does not consider the Iran-Syria alliance a critical security threat to the West and Israel. Interestingly, the US is reluctant about military intervention in Syria for the same reason that its opponent, Iran, is backing the regime in Syria: avoiding coining a pattern of regime change by Western military intervention in the region and beyond.
The US does not want to coin such a pattern because of the uncertainty embedded in the pattern itself. As long as this pattern is implemented in countries like Syria or Libya, it is not that dangerous, even though it is costly. However, if this pattern is going to encourage people in other countries to revolt, specifically the Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or even Iran, the pattern will be a threat to the world’s economy; any tension in the Persian Gulf area can lead to sky rocketing oil prices. This is what the US and its allies cannot afford in the current situation of the world economy. If we add the uncertainty related to the regimes that would come to power after the fall of the current ones, the pattern becomes even more opposed to the interests of the US and its allies.