Kofi Annan, envoy for the United Nations and Arab League, is due to brief the UN Security Council today about his fruitless efforts so far to bring a cease-fire. His efforts have been vastly complicated by the regional gamesmanship.
“What has happened in the big picture is that the Syrian crisis has been caught in a regional cold war,” says Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
The regional battle lines were clearly drawn in the aftermath of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, when the Shiite Hezbollah militia leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared a “divine victory” after a 33-day fight. Iran helped Hezbollah in that battle, channeling thousands of rockets and cash, in a war that both Tehran and Washington portrayed as a regional face-off.
“This whole resistance axis, it’s like a virtual front,” says Khouri. “It always had a certain shelf life; each party drew from it certain things that they benefited from.”
The stakes now for regional players like Iran are high. Gen. James Mattis, head of US Central Command, testified to Congress earlier this month that Iran was flying weapons and experts into Syria in "a full-throated effort ... to keep Assad there and oppressing his own people." When Assad falls, he said, "it'll be the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 20 years."
“For sure the Iranians will help the Syrian regime stay in power, because the Syrian connection is one of their few foreign policy successes in the Arab world; the other is Hezbollah,” says Khouri.