Syria Heading from Bad to Worse

Typical newspaper readers and those with untrained eyes probably read past the report on Monday that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad Shaqfa declared support for anti-Assad protesters in Syria.  Likewise, they probably failed to grasp the significance of a report on Tuesday that Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said that the protests in Syria are the result of a plot by Americans and Zionists -- that's Jewish people in general and Israeli Jews in particular.

Syria is a Muslim country, but it's not an Islamist state.  Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, is a Muslim, but he's not a Sharia law aficionado.  Even so, he has allowed Hamas, Hezb'allah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, and other radical Islamist groups to set up field headquarters in Damascus, Syria's capital.  Syria is a resource-poor country and a country that is still technically at war with Israel.  Assad thinks that he's using these Islamist groups as leverage to maintain influence in Lebanon and to keep pressure on Israel, but the worm has turned.  Iran has assumed the leadership position in the dark world of radical Islam, and Iran is using these and other Islamist groups to dislodge non-Islamist Arab leaders -- including Bashar al-Assad -- throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 

Under the best of circumstances, Islamists can't be trusted.  Lying is as natural to them as breathing is to normal humans.  They don't even trust each other, and if it were not for the fact that they view Israel as their common enemy, they would fight among themselves until the bitter end.  Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, knows these things, and still he opened his arms to radical Islamists, believing as he does that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

Iran is a game changer.  The Iranians came to the party with a strong military, oil, money to burn (and radical Islamists love money), and a lust for transforming the world into a caliphate under Sharia law.  From the radical Islamist groups' perspective, it makes perfect sense to dump Assad and embrace Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That explains what's happening in Syria, but what about the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman's remark about Americans and Zionists?  Does he honestly believe that these groups are responsible for the unrest in Syria?  The answer is a resounding "no."  Why?  It's because Iran is stoking the fires in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria.  From Iran's perspective, Assad was a good partner as long as radical Islamist splinter groups were relatively weak, but when they became stronger and more beholden to Iran, ditching Assad was a no-brainer.

Assad knows what it feels like to lose wars with Israel, and he doesn't want Syria to lose another one.  In the last twenty years, Syria came very close to inking a peace deal with Israel several times, but at the last moment, something always prevented them from signing on the dotted line.  It was usually the exact location of the boundary between Syria and Israel in the Sea of Galilee area.  Iranian leaders know this, and in their view, it translates into "Assad can't be trusted!"

The Iranians rode Assad until it was time to change horses.  The day will probably come when Iran is at war with radical Islamist groups for the same reason that radical Islamists fight among themselves.  They don't trust each other, but today, right now, at this moment, Iran and radical Islamist groups share a common hatred of Israel and a willingness, even a lust, to spill their blood in pursuit of their common goal: the total annihilation of Israel, or, as President Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly, "to wipe Israel off the map."

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman's attempt to pin the blame for the unrest in Syria on Americans and Zionists was sleight of hand -- a stroke of genius that would make P.T. Barnum proud.  The Iranians are taking full advantage of the current global antipathy toward the U.S. and Israel by casting aspersions westward while they work feverishly to establish Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, and it will probably work.  Barnum understood human nature, and he famously said, "There's a sucker born every minute."  Most of the world will fall for that line, and the Iranians know it.

Nothing short of regime change will alter the Iranians' resolve.  Economic conditions won't do it, sanctions won't do it, and the threat of war won't do it.  In America, Europe, and even China, economic conditions moderate the leaders' decision-making, but not in Iran.  Iranian leaders are the modern-day equivalents of Haman and Hitler.  They will go to their graves hating Jews and Israel, and no sacrifice is too great.

Neil Snyder taught leadership and strategy at the University of Virginia for 25 years.  He retired from UVA in 2004 and is currently the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at UVA.  His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.
Typical newspaper readers and those with untrained eyes probably read past the report on Monday that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad Shaqfa declared support for anti-Assad protesters in Syria.  Likewise, they probably failed to grasp the significance of a report on Tuesday that Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said that the protests in Syria are the result of a plot by Americans and Zionists -- that's Jewish people in general and Israeli Jews in particular.

Syria is a Muslim country, but it's not an Islamist state.  Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, is a Muslim, but he's not a Sharia law aficionado.  Even so, he has allowed Hamas, Hezb'allah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, and other radical Islamist groups to set up field headquarters in Damascus, Syria's capital.  Syria is a resource-poor country and a country that is still technically at war with Israel.  Assad thinks that he's using these Islamist groups as leverage to maintain influence in Lebanon and to keep pressure on Israel, but the worm has turned.  Iran has assumed the leadership position in the dark world of radical Islam, and Iran is using these and other Islamist groups to dislodge non-Islamist Arab leaders -- including Bashar al-Assad -- throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 

Under the best of circumstances, Islamists can't be trusted.  Lying is as natural to them as breathing is to normal humans.  They don't even trust each other, and if it were not for the fact that they view Israel as their common enemy, they would fight among themselves until the bitter end.  Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, knows these things, and still he opened his arms to radical Islamists, believing as he does that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

Iran is a game changer.  The Iranians came to the party with a strong military, oil, money to burn (and radical Islamists love money), and a lust for transforming the world into a caliphate under Sharia law.  From the radical Islamist groups' perspective, it makes perfect sense to dump Assad and embrace Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That explains what's happening in Syria, but what about the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman's remark about Americans and Zionists?  Does he honestly believe that these groups are responsible for the unrest in Syria?  The answer is a resounding "no."  Why?  It's because Iran is stoking the fires in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria.  From Iran's perspective, Assad was a good partner as long as radical Islamist splinter groups were relatively weak, but when they became stronger and more beholden to Iran, ditching Assad was a no-brainer.

Assad knows what it feels like to lose wars with Israel, and he doesn't want Syria to lose another one.  In the last twenty years, Syria came very close to inking a peace deal with Israel several times, but at the last moment, something always prevented them from signing on the dotted line.  It was usually the exact location of the boundary between Syria and Israel in the Sea of Galilee area.  Iranian leaders know this, and in their view, it translates into "Assad can't be trusted!"

The Iranians rode Assad until it was time to change horses.  The day will probably come when Iran is at war with radical Islamist groups for the same reason that radical Islamists fight among themselves.  They don't trust each other, but today, right now, at this moment, Iran and radical Islamist groups share a common hatred of Israel and a willingness, even a lust, to spill their blood in pursuit of their common goal: the total annihilation of Israel, or, as President Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly, "to wipe Israel off the map."

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman's attempt to pin the blame for the unrest in Syria on Americans and Zionists was sleight of hand -- a stroke of genius that would make P.T. Barnum proud.  The Iranians are taking full advantage of the current global antipathy toward the U.S. and Israel by casting aspersions westward while they work feverishly to establish Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, and it will probably work.  Barnum understood human nature, and he famously said, "There's a sucker born every minute."  Most of the world will fall for that line, and the Iranians know it.

Nothing short of regime change will alter the Iranians' resolve.  Economic conditions won't do it, sanctions won't do it, and the threat of war won't do it.  In America, Europe, and even China, economic conditions moderate the leaders' decision-making, but not in Iran.  Iranian leaders are the modern-day equivalents of Haman and Hitler.  They will go to their graves hating Jews and Israel, and no sacrifice is too great.

Neil Snyder taught leadership and strategy at the University of Virginia for 25 years.  He retired from UVA in 2004 and is currently the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at UVA.  His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.

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