If you don’t understand the religious allegiances in the Middle East you can’t hope to understand the forces driving regional politics. In this long New Yorker article, we get a look at Iran’s aspirations. Using underground fighters, Iran– a Shiite state–kept Shiites in charge of Syria, who in turn fought over Lebanon.
The early months of 2013, around the time of Shateri’s death, marked a low point for the Iranian intervention in Syria. Assad was steadily losing ground to the rebels, who are dominated by Sunnis, Iran’s rivals. If Assad fell, the Iranian regime would lose its link to Hezbollah, its forward base against Israel. In a speech, one Iranian cleric said, “If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”
If Iran becomes a nuclear power, I’d say chances are high that it will use such a weapon on a Sunni rival to bring the entire region to heel. At that point only Israel will have the nuclear deterrence to stand up to Iran. I think at that point we’ll see even scarier brinkmanship, with Iran using proxy fighters like Hezbollah on brazen attacks that can’t be directly pinned on them. Would Israel risk prompting a nuclear exchange by rolling out conventional attacks like they’ve done most recently in Lebanon? Would Iran risk nuking Jerusalem? The best course of action is keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands so that we don’t have to find out.