THE BLOG
11/18/2014 01:01 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Iran: Syria and Iraq the Red Lines

The Islamic Republic has recently warned the Turkish government on its military presence in Syria and for "Turkey's dangerous policies" in Syria and Iraq. The head of the political bureau of the Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, pointed out that "the crisis in Iraq and Syria will move to Turkey if Ankara does not modify its behavior." Amidst the battle against the Islamic State, Iranian leaders appear to have successfully and forcefully made their point to the West and regional state actors regarding Tehran's redlines: Iraq, and more significantly, Iran's long-time protégé, Syria.

The professionally taken photos of General Qassem Suleimani in Iraq, the commander of Iran's Quds force who normally keeps a low profile, and the projection of these pictures on Iran's TV outlets, suggests a significant strategic shift in Iran's policies to publicly project its power. According to the Guardian, Amirali Hajizadeh, the airforce commander of Iran's Revoluationary Guard Corps, stated on Iran's national TV that "If it wasn't for Iran's help, Iraq's Kurdistan would have fallen into the hands of Daesh." Further, Iran is attempting to send a message to the Iranian people that Tehran can tackle any regional threat.

The ongoing fighting against the Islamic State has emboldened Iran and definitely deflected attention from some aspects of Iran's increasing military, financial, intelligence, and advisory assistance to President Bashar Al Assad, along with Tehran's ambitions for regional supremacy.

Appeasing Policies of the US and Western Allies

Part of the reason lies in the current foreign policies, weaknesses, and failure of the United States and its Western allies in the Middle East. Since the US and the Islamic Republic have been indirectly cooperating and coordinating aerial and ground battles against the Islamic State, the US and its Western allies came to the understanding that they will carry out a policy of appeasement towards Iran's role in the region, its military involvement in Syria, and Iran-Iraq ties. More fundamentally, the United States and Western allies seem to have accepted and recognized Iran's red line with regards to Assad, and are appearing to appease the Islamic Republic's objectives in that regard.

For the West, particularly Washington, as long as Iranian leaders are assisting them in beating the Islamic State, this tactical shift and doctrine is viewed as the most effective foreign policy to serve the campaign against the Islamic State.

Currently, for Washington and Western allies, the battle against the Islamic State is at the top of their foreign policy agenda. The future of Assad, his use of brute force, and Iran's IRGC assistances have definitely become secondary and marginal objectives to tackle. In addition, Iran's nuclear ambitions have also slid to the sidelines of the US and Western allies' objectives as the battle against the Islamic State is going on. The US, the major negotiator in the p5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), has significantly softened its position towards Iran's nuclear program by favoring policies such as nuclear containment rather than dismantlement of Tehran's nuclear infrastructure. This follows that Iran might be allowed, like Japan, to be a nuclear threshold state.

The West's appeasement towards Iran's hegemonic ambitions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, among other nations, has also contributed to the emboldening of the Islamic State, other insurgencies, and extremism across the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic Denies

Although the Islamic Republic denies that it has forces on the ground in Syria, the fighters from Hezbollah (Lebanon's pro-Iranian Shiite movement) and Quds forces (an elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps), have been significantly instrumental in tipping the balance of power in favor of the Syrian government as well as keeping Assad in power after more than three years of the conflict in Syria. The powerful Iranian-backed Shia Badr brigade has played a crucial role in Iraq as well.

The shortcomings of the US and Western allies' foreign policy in the Middle East is linked to policy and objective compartmentalization. Without a doubt, the rise of the Islamic State is related to Iran's military and financial support to Assad, which has further radicalized and militarized the Syrian civil war.

This protracted conflict has provided the required environment for extremist Jihadist groups to organize, recruit, and develop. On the other hand, Iran's rising power in the Middle East amid the Islamic State's conflict, will be posing much more ominous results in the close future.

Efficient and Informed Policies: Compartmentalization of Foreign Policies?

As a result, isolating, taking Tehran's role in the region out of the equation, as well as turning a blind eye to Iran's support to the Syrian government would eventually lead to failure and be counterproductive. What is needed in order to address the raising conflict in the Middle East is a comprehensive marshal plan, which would take all the different layers of Iran's role in the conflict into consideration, including the Islamic Republic's forces involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. A comprehensive strategic plan is required that would tackle all the angles of the conflict. This plan should address the root of the problem, not just the problem's effects.

When it comes to the Islamic Republic's increasing military, financial, intelligence, and advisory involvements in Syria, another underlying factor is that Iranian leaders have clearly sensed the American President's and Western leaders' weaknesses. On several occasions, Assad crossed the red line imposed by the United State and President Obama did not act on his words.

Currently, the US and Western allies' major campaign in the Middle East is fighting the Islamic State while ignoring to address Iran's military engagements in other countries, ignoring Tehran's determination for regional supremacy seriously.

The most effective approach is to simultaneously address the Islamic Republic's multi dimensional functions across the Middle East, including its military, financial intelligence, advisory assistance to Assad, Tehran's military involvements in Iraq, and Yemen, the involvement of pro-Iranian and pro-Shiite proxies and militias in the region, as well as Iran's nuclear ambitions. This comprehensive strategy will address some of the crucial underlying factors behind the crisis in the Middle East including the rise of extremist groups such as the Islamic State. By not taking Iran's nuanced role in the Middle East seriously, and by turning a blind eye on all Iranian military activities in Syria and other countries- due to the notion that the Islamic Republic is assisting the United States and Western allies in their fighting campaign against the Islamic State- will solely ratchet up the conflict and eventually lead to significant foreign policy failures.

Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.

@majidrafizadeh