With Gaza a fading memory in the press, attention returns again to Syria. But as important as Gaza and Syria are for Israel they represent secondary, boundary issues in the strategic struggle underway. Today’s blog was written yesterday in response to two reports appearing in Israeli journals. The first carried the headline, Unusual activity at Syrian chemical weapons sites amid rumors Assad is dead or fled. “The Syrian regime is “doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons,” one American intelligence official told the Times, adding, “It’s not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.””

The second and similarly headlined, West worried by Syrian chemical site activity’, repeats the prime ministers early threat to the Assad regime:

“We will do everything that is needed” to ensure Syria’s WMD stockpiles are not transferred, Netanyahu said at a meeting with EU ambassadors stationed in Israel in October… Earlier this year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would weigh military action if it suspects Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization…” [The Syrian] opposition indicated it could accept an international peacekeeping force if President Bashar Assad is forced from power.”

Barely two weeks since Operation Pillar of Defense (OPD) and Syria returns with a vengeance. At the start of OPD I wrote Gaza: Will Iran take the bait? My suggestion was that Gaza was just the opening gambit in what may be the end-game in the confrontation with Iran. Since then reports such as: The Gaza Operation: Less a War than an Anti-Iran Coup have reinforced this view: 

“The coup action was designed as Part One of US President Barack Obama’s overall plan, which is to harness the Arab Spring to key US objectives. His partners were – and are – Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Obama’s next stop is Syria…

Accepting for the moment the possibility that President Obama has, after four years of apparently naïve regional blunders outgrown idealism and his messianic dream as “peacemaker,” that Obama II, realist and pragmatist of his unfolding second term stands before us today; then the possibility that America’s previous slogan, “all things are on the table,” is beginning to grow teeth. If these “ifs” hold then Pillar of Defense may indeed represent part of that larger regional strategy to confront Iran. And today’s headlines regarding Syria represent the next step in that unfolding plan.

Assad being dead or having fled Syria indeed represents a game changer, a major setback for Iran. But not necessarily a defeat for the Islamic Republic. It must be assumed that that the Iranian IRGC operating in Syria was not there merely to reinforce the Assad regime, but to have contingency plans in case the Alawite’s were forced from power. The model for this fallback Iranian position exists in Iraq.

Iran has more than demonstrated their prowess in keeping the US off-balance and on the defensive at least as far back as America’s ill-conceived 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iran, through their agent-in-the-Bush-Administration, Ahmed Chalabi, provided the president all the “credible” misinformation needed to justify his predisposition to invade. Simultaneous with baiting the trap Iran had also prepared the ground for a long-term, low intensity war to distract the superpower from its real ambitions as emerging regional hegemon backed by a nuclear weapon. Once Bush blindly walked into the trap, theUS immediately found itself bogged down by a well-trained, armed and IRGC-officered “resistance.”Iran was free to pursue its nuclear ambitions while easily keeping Bush and his successor, Obama, constantly on the “negotiating” defensive.Iran could increase or tamp down the threat to US forces in Iraq through its puppet militias, most notably that of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Assuming the successor regime to the Assad dynasty will, as expected, be headed by the Muslim Brotherhood backed, as in Egypt, by the US and EU (the likely alternative being an unstable competition between religious cantons); assuming the regime does accept, as suggested above, the “international peacekeeping force;” assuming those peace-keepers will comprise mostly US forces backed by the EU: we may be looking at another prolonged “civil war” ala Iraq with the US again distracted by the need to limit casualties, having entered another well-intended military operation once again without a clear “exit strategy.”

Iran’s path to becoming a nuclear power, achieving its ambition as regional hegemon will be attainable. And, should this occur Iran will be in position to determine global oil prices, will be able to project influence well beyond the Middle East. And the US, already withdrawing from the region, will be in retreat from the Middle East, with all the global ramifications of that defeat.

Or, Obama passes on direct Syrian intervention, skips another Iranian trap and instead takes the battle to the ayatollahs. Not just by sending Israel off to do America’s dirty work, but by organizing and leading a “Coalition of the Willing II”.Iran minus its nuclear threat would return to its previous place on the world stage, a despotic second-rate power across the Gulf from the Arabs.

So this is the choice facing the “new” President Obama: another military failure super-magnified by passively allowing Iran to emerge as a nuclear power; or cleaning up the mess a decade of military and diplomatic failure have created in the Middle East. However the US redefines its priorities East, leaving yesterday’s dirty laundry behind would cap its misguided tactical “nation building” failure with a far more disastrous to its global standing, a strategic regional failure. To abandon the region would be a signal to the world, including its “allies” and dependencies of the Far East of America the fading giant: of America the Unreliable.

Postscript: Over the years I have written regarding America gradual withdrawal from the Middle East. Its shift eastward, to confront its newly defined global threat,China, still requires that “allies” and dependencies in that region at least trust American staying power. What message to future enemies and allies will the US send if it abandons the Middle East to Iran backed, coincidentally, by its traditional Cold War “enemy,” Russia!?

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