July 19, 2006


Strange Bedfellows: What's behind the enduring alliance between Syria and Iran? (Daniel Byman, 19 July, 2006)

The Middle East is home to many unusual alliances, but one of the oddest is the enduring partnership between Syria and Iran. Syria portrays itself as a champion of secular Arab nationalism, although in practice it is a minority-dominated military dictatorship. Iran, in contrast, rides under the banner of revolutionary Islam, although as a Persian country, it is often at odds with the Arab world, particularly since the vast majority of Iranians are Shiites, while most Arabs are Sunnis...
But geopolitics has brought Iran and Syria together despite these many differences. In a strategic partnership that would have made Metternich proud, the two nations banded together against Saddam's Iraq, which both saw as an immediate threat to their security. Israel, too, provided a common foe. Iran's revolutionary ideology saw Israel as anathema; Syria also opposed the Jewish state, especially after its humiliating defeat in the 1967 war, since when it has strived to regain the Golan Heights. The United States is hostile to both regimes, producing further incentive to cooperate. Both countries worry that the chaos in Iraq will creep across their borders, but they're also keen for the United States to suffer a bloody nose to dampen its enthusiasm for regime change. Finally, both nations have few allies, making the other's support especially valuable.

The last sentence is the truth. They're allies because they've go their backs against the same wall.

Posted by Pepys at July 19, 2006 11:30 PM

But Saddam would never have partnered with Al Qaeda...

Posted by: David Cohen at July 20, 2006 7:42 AM

It's not strictly true that they have no allies. A shared alliance with the Soviets is what brought them together in the first place. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Iran grew close to China (forming with Pakistan, North Korea, and a few others a new alliance that has shared weapons technologies including nukes and missiles). Syria became a junior partner to Iran, dependent on Iran's oil money, not trusted enough to get Chinese weapons technology directly.

So, Syria has few allies, except Iran; but Iran has China, North Korea, and Cuba as solid allies, plus various other transactional partners -- who knows which way Pakistan will lean, and Russia has been opportunistic, working with whoever offers the most for them and happy to take Iran's money.

Posted by: pj at July 20, 2006 7:55 AM