The use of chemical weapons in Syria has become one of the top news topics in the international community. The United States has declared that it considers the use of chemical weapons a red line and has suggested that it will earnestly intervene if the Syrian government uses such weapons. However, will this intervention be only a military one, or does Washington have other suitable options?
The recent decisive position of John Kerry has increased the possibility of US involvement in this matter and the current political atmosphere of Washington indicates that the White House is seriously considering the military option. However, the most important element which the decision makers in the White House should consider is what the possible results of a military intervention could be.
- A UN delegation might confirm the use of chemical weapons, but it might not be able to determine whether the rebels or the Syrian government were behind the chemical attack. Even if the delegation names the Syrian government as the responsible party, this conclusion may be questioned by some members of the international community and thus will not be unanimous.
- Assuming that the international community does come to an agreement regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the manner in which the problem should be tackled is a decision which should be made by the United Nations, not Washington. A one-sided decision by Washington would bring the legitimacy of the UN Security Council, as the only legitimate body responsible for peace and security in the world, under question.
- Today, there is no doubt that the United States supported Saddam Hussein in using chemical weapons against Iran. The recent report by Foreign Policy and the documents from the US Congress show that United States strongly supported Saddam Hussein in his use of chemical weapons against the military personnel and the civilians of Iran during the eight-year war started in 1980. Therefore, Washington has neither a suitable position nor the credibility to act as the international police regarding the usage of chemical weapons. The United States itself is still in the position of an accused party, given that 100,000 Iranians were killed or injured during the chemical attacks against Iran.
- Tehran and Moscow consider a military attack on Syria their red line, and it is unlikely that they will sit idly by in the case of a US operation against Syria. Therefore, any kind of military attack on Syria will have vast consequences in the region and beyond. If Russia and Iran were convinced the government of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, they would alter their position, because Tehran is strongly against the production, stockpile and the use of all types of weapons of mass destruction.
- It is unlikely for the United States to have the desire or the ability to engage in a new all-out war in the Middle East. In the case of a military operation, it is much more likely that the attack would be targeted and carried out in a short time frame. Such an attack will not result in the fall of Assad’s government and instead could strengthen the nationalist sentiments of the Syrian people in support of Assad and in opposition to foreign aggression.
- The Islamists in the Middle East will not turn a blind eye on the United States violating the integrity of a Muslim country. The United States has previously attacked the Muslim nations of Afghanistan and Iraq and has withdrawn, leaving trillions of dollars in damage and thousands of dead and injured military personnel, in addition to having increased anti-US and anti-Israeli feelings in the Middle East.
- The Middle East is experiencing its most unstable period in history. Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen are in dangerous states of emergency. Turkey, the lynchpin for the Western powers in the Middle East, is losing its position and has a tense relationship with most of its neighbors. Additionally, Ankara is experiencing tensions with the current Egyptian government, the United States and Israel over Egypt. Consequently, the United States and the West are without a friendly base in the Middle East.
- The victory of the moderates in the recent elections in Iran is the only encouraging sign of stability and democracy in the region. Jeffrey Feltman, the American UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, has traveled to Iran and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss the issue of Syria. Tehran made it clear to Feltman that it is ready to engage in serious cooperation in order to peacefully resolve the crisis in Syria. At the same time, the sultan of Oman has traveled to Iran with a positive message from the White House, so the timing seems right for a constructive collaboration between Tehran and Washington.
The cooperation of the two countries in 2001 regarding Afghanistan, resulting in the fall of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is a blueprint for a new collaboration. This collaboration should not be limited to Syria. The Middle East requires management for the time, and therefore, crisis management (of this and other crises) would be a useful path for this collaboration.
The collaboration should take place in the framework of the UN Security Council. Iran and the United States can have a constructive and purposeful collaboration within the boundaries of a new plan orchestrated by the UN Security Council in order to save the Middle East from falling into the abyss of civil and sectarian war. Needless to say, Moscow, Beijing, the European Union and the powerful countries in the Middle East must have constructive and efficient roles and presence in this collaboration. This path will facilitate resolving the nuclear crisis of Iran and will open a new door in ending the 33 years of hostilities between Iran and the United States.
Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators. His latest book, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, was published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.