Unsettling allegations of collaboration between the Islamic State and the Assad regime, along with reports of growing Iranian nuclear stockpiles, are quickly being overshadowed by rising tensions in the Ukraine Crisis and the South China Sea. The truth is that the fallout of an armed conflict involving the West, Russia, and Asia would be far more devastating to the world than a drawn out conflict with the Islamic State, so the International Community must be distracted by these unnecessary crises. That said, the dynamics in the Ukraine Crisis and South China Sea are not changing as they crescendo; whereas, the situation in the Middle East is on the verge a major shift.
Although Russia’s strong ties to China, Iran, and the Assad regime could have little to no impact on the aforementioned conflicts, underestimating Putin’s desire to dominate the West and surpass the United States as the world’s most powerful nation would be foolish. A cold-calculating assassin like former-KGB operator Vladimir Putin would certainly not think twice about pitting the US against China, even if the Asia nation is its ally, in order to weaken them for Russian dominance or using terrorists to accomplish his goals. After all, it appears Putin’s pledge at the onset of the Ukraine Crisis to build a Russian economy with zero-reliance on the West may well be honored with the rise of a war economy sustained by perpetual war.
With that in mind, Iran has made it clear that it is fully committed to supporting the Assad Regime. It has also demonstrated a willingness to evade the goal of any nuclear deal, i.e. to actually prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, by continuing to expand its stockpiles of nuclear material and work on nuclear missile facilities during the negotiating process. Not only has Iran grown increasingly hostile over the past few months, Iran also continued to hold American citizens hostage. Where there was hope at the beginning of nuclear talks that President Hassan Rouhani could force a new Iran, even under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, those hopes are barely a fond memory at this point.
A viable nuclear deal with Iran would be a significant win for the International Community, the Middle East, and Iran. Given Iran is threatened by terrorist groups like the Islamic State and their ability to eventually utilize Iran’s own nuclear weapons against it, Iran has every interest in securing a nuclear deal and restoring its economy. Unfortunately, Iran is not at a point where it will accept and respect a nuclear deal. It is time to take a break.
Allowing sanctions against Iran to go back into affect while offering Tehran a second chance at negotiations in a few months would serve as a powerful reminder of what benefits Iran can expect from a nuclear deal. If it is done now and done in a way that the blame falls on the Iranian hardliners, leaving the door open for a reboot of Iranian nuclear negotiations could eventually lead to a viable deal. It would also help avoid renewed conflict between Iran and the US when the Middle East needs some level of cooperation, even if it is just the pursuit of a common goal instead of competing over influence in Iraq.
There is, of course, the Assad regime to consider. Although the West, Israel, and the Saudi-led Arab Coalition have tolerated Assad’s strikes on civilian populations and pro-Western rebels, Assad’s willingness to use the Islamic State to subdue pro-Western rebels changes the calculations behind these airstrikes. Not only does it invite greater airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, it also invites strikes against Assad’s airpower and ground forces.
Where the West will be more hesitant to engage Assad until the facts can be established, members of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition may well decide allegations provide enough justification. The United States will eventually come to support its Arab allies, but Iran will have to choose between escalating conflict with the West and the Saudi-led coalition, which is sure to leave Iraq looking more like Syria and Iran looking more like Iraq. At any rate, the only winner will be the Islamic State.
Finally, it is important to understand success tends to breed success. This is certainly true when it comes the Islamic State and its ability to metastasize into more than a dozen countries by assimilating other terrorist groups and governing the territory it controls. What this does is allow IS to act with the freedom of a traditional terrorist group to subdue threats while securing territory as though it is a sovereign entity. Although the Islamic State cannot establish permanent seats of government due to external threats, this approach will eventually enable the Islamic State to build its nation-like Caliphate then expand upon an empire of satellite territories and colonies.
Ultimately, the success of the Islamic State will depend on the ability of the International Community to address the threat of this terrorist organization. Unfortunately, actors like the Khamenei regime, the Putin government, and the Assad regime appear to view the Islamic State as an opportunity for their gain instead of a serious threat. In essence, they seem to believe they can unleash a plague on their enemies without poisoning themselves. Should these actors continue to undermine efforts to deal with the Islamic State and other issues within the Middle East, swift and decisive action will be required to minimize the harm they are doing.
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