Iran's government has tricked us all. With the ascension of Hassan Rouhani - a high ranking cleric - to the Presidency, the nation's theocratic leaders endeavoured to demonstrate that they had moved away from the geopolitical machinations of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's court.
"Rouhani is a moderate!" they happily lied, and we were all drawn in: but no longer. After a burlesque of democracy in the June 2013 Presidential election (in which all thirty prospective female candidates were rejected by the Guardian Council on legal grounds) Rouhani assumed power. From then on, he has incorrectly been seen as a beacon of hope for the country, which is still in the midst of economic troubles: including cripplingly high inflation and stagnating growth levels.
This portrayal just doesn't ring true. Despite his brief phone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama - which was more of a piece of theatre than any action of considered foreign policy - little has changed. He still aims to promote the interests of Shia Islam in the Middle East, and seemingly pursues that narrow religious goal over any hope of long term peace in the volatile region.
Recently, the BBC's excellent Yalda Hakim presented, "Iran's secret army", detailing the extent to which Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard is interfering to maintain the despicable despot Bashar al-Assad's hold on power in Syria.
Far from the neutrality it supposedly supports, it seems that Iran's Special Forces has been operating highly important missions within Syria - and they have the casualties to prove it. The BBC documentary is based on independently verified footage shot by an Iranian, Hadi Baghbani - a film maker who was embedded with a unit of veteran Iranian fighters sent to bolster the forces of oppression and oligarchy in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The leader of the group to which he is attached was Ismail Ali Taqi Heydari - who claims in the film to have undertaken six tours of duty in Syria since the conflict began.
His squad was tasked with the training of the regime's military, as well as the establishment and maintenance of pro-Assad paramilitary militias in the Aleppo area. In addition to building up the forces of Assad's government, the Iranians also frequently took to the front lines, directly fighting those who would wish to battle the tyranny.
After falling for a rebel ambush - captured on the rebels' own cameras - in an attack on a government stronghold at Tal Azan, both Heydari and Baghbani were killed. Their personal effects were taken by the rebel commander: fragments of a secret war being fought in the midst of a wider catastrophe. But that is not all. In the Institute for the Study of War's research paper Iranian Strategy in Syria, the authors write:
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall."
Through the use of proxies, such as Lebanese terror organisation Hezbollah, Iran is able to intervene in Syrian affairs at will. The West, and all defenders of enlightenment values, need to grit their collective teeth to use military and humanitarian means to stop the contagion of theocracy and terror from spreading into another vulnerable Middle Eastern state. Saudi Arabia, the only outside power willing to support and arm rebel groups, would see Syria become a Wahhabist dictatorship: an extension of the oppressive oil-fed Sultanate which languishes in its corridors of power. We need to provide an alternative source of alliance for the moderate rebel groups - to stop the uprising falling into the hands of the Islamists.
There are practical things which Britain and its allies can accomplish in Syria. In the same document from the Institute for the Study of War, it is suggested that seaborne links between the Assad regime and Iranian allies are weak, and that supplies can be disrupted by the air. "Iran", the authors say, "would not be able to maintain its current level of support to Assad if this air route were interdicted through a no-fly zone or rebel capture of Syrian airfields."
It would be possible, they suggest, for us in Britain to have a serious impact on the way the war is going, and to do so on the right side. Iran and Syria are both sinister autocracies, striving for the survival of religious barbarism on the one hand in Persia, and the furtherance of a kleptocratic tyranny on the other. Their actions need to be thwarted and their aims need to be defeated.
We can look to the manifold successes of the Libya campaign for confirmation. While initially wary, Western and Arab League forces achieved aerial superiority - denying the monstrous Colonel Gaddafi the ability to brutalise civilians with his air force and heavy vehicles. We should also derive inspiration from the no-fly zone over Kurdistan after the over-cautious end to the First Gulf War. That region was able to rebuild without molestation from Saddam's helicopters - coincidentally enough, after a similar chemical weapons attack to the one which Syrian government forces visited upon innocent civilians in the Ghouta region of Damascus in August this year.
Picture, too, if further proof is needed, the lack of ethnic slaughter in Bosnia and Sierra Leone. Disaster was directly prevented because of military action from NATO, and the UK and U.S. in particular. Even the Guardian supported the former. Sometimes, even those who are absolutely against the idea of military intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, can be convinced by circumstance that it is the right thing to do. This ought to be such a time.
Now, if you can, think of the places where Western inaction led to massacres - to oppression - and to evil. They are pretty easy to recount: Rwanda, Darfur, the Congo, Bahrain, there are many more. We cannot let Syria become another entry in the catalogue of Western failings. We had empire and its excesses; we had corrupt patronage and its crimes. We need to act now, lest slowness and cowardice become the new buzz words, chanted by furious crowds in a foreign land which cried out to the world at large: and got no reply but cold, empty, silence.
James Snell is a Contributing Editor for The Libertarian. This article first appeared on Trending Central