Iran and Syria have formed a mutual self-defence pact to protect themselves from external (i.e. U.S.) aggression, stating
"At this sensitive point, the two countries require a united front due to numerous challenges,"
Iran is under pressure over its alleged nuclear weapons programme (they claim they are developing nuclear power for domestic purposes, not weapons), while the US has withdrawn the ambassador to Damascus following the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (although there is no evidence the Syrian Government was responsible for this act - in fact a little known terrorist group has already claimed responsibility and stated that they did it because Hariri was dealing with the Saudi´s).
Syria and Iran are not natural allies (although there have been unproven allegations covert military cooperation in the past) but they are being pushed together by their common enemies - Israel and the U.S.
The US has called on Syria to close the headquarters of Hamas (the main Palestinian group responsible for suicide bombers) to end its support for Hizbullah (the Lebanese-based, anti-Israeli militia) and to block support for the insurgency in Iraq.
In Lebanon, the funeral of Rafik Hariri was followed by calls for the resignation of the pro-Syrian government led by Emile Lahoud. The US assistant secretary of state (William Burns) called for a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon, and "the immediate withdrawal by Syria of all of its forces in Lebanon".
This is interesting, because Lebanon already has an elected government (with suffrage for all males over 21, and all females over 21 with an elementary education). Furthermore, the deployment of Syrian troops in the area was legitimised by the Arab League at the end of Lebanon´s vicious civil war under the Ta´if Accord (the peace deal). Damascus justifies its continued military presence in Lebanon by noting that the Government has not asked them to leave, and that all of the constitutional reforms in the Ta´if Accord have not yet been implemented. The reason Syria is being blamed for the assassination is that Hariri resigned because he wanted the Syrian forces to withdraw.
However, the (elected) National Assembly voted 96 to 29 to extend Lahud's six-year term by three years on 3rd September 2004 in the full knowledge that he supported Syrian involvement. However, UN Resolution 1559 (October 2004) called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
Silvan Shalom (Israeli foreign minister) accused Iran of preparing nuclear weapons that would be able to target "London, Paris and Madrid" by the end of the decade. I imagine they are more worried about nukes that can target Israel, since Israel certainly has nukes than can target Iran!
Meanwhile, Ali Yunesi (Iran´s intelligence minister) claims that the US has been flying spy drones over Iran´s nuclear sites (a claim consistent with reports in the U.S media that they planned to spy on sites prior to a bombing run - New Yorker). Iran warns that spy drones will be shot down if they come within range.
The U.S. also demands that Iran ends its support for Hizbullah and proposes new economic sanctions against them - citing their undemocratic regime. Of course, they had an elected leader in the early 1950´s, so what happened?
After the fall of the Shah´s dictatorship in 1941, popular movements began to voice the Iranian resentment of British colonialism and the puppet regimes. Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq (who was appointed Prime Minister in 1951 due to a massive popular vote) led the movement to nationalize Iran´s oil industry, and challenge the position of the clergy. The International Court of Justice at the Hague and the U.N. General Assembly confirmed Iran's right to nationalise their oil, but this did not go down well with Britain, or their buddies the US. Mossadeq was overthrown in a U.S. engineered coup d´etat, and a period of brutal suppression followed.
President Eisenhower´s National Security Council noted in 1953,
"Over the long run, the most effective instrument for maintaining Iran´s orientation towards the West is the monarchy, which in turn has the army as its only real source of power. U.S. military aid serves to improve army morale, cement army loyalty to the shah, and thus consolidate the present regime and provide some assurance that Iran´s current orientation towards the West will be perpetual."
Unfortunately, this backfired. By supporting SAVAK (the secret police who were notorious for their use of torture and the execution of thousands of political prisoners), the US contributed to the anti-Americanism that later manifested itself in the revolution against the monarchy - and the rise to power of Khomeini and the religious extremists.
The "Sazeman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran" (People´s Mojahedin Organization of Iran founded in 1965), was characterised in the west as a terrorist group. Their aim was to establish a Muslim, revolutionary, nationalist and democratic government. How evil! The arrest and murder of the leaders of the Mojahedin by SAVAK in the run up to the visit by U.S. President, Richard Nixon did not destroy the movement. So, Khomeini decided that the only solution to curb the Mojahedin's rising popularity was their total suppression.
On 20th June 1981, Khomeini´s Revolutionary Guards opened fire on a peaceful demonstration (an estimated 500,000 people) in Tehran in support of the Mojahedin. Hundreds were killed or injured outside the Iranian parliament.
Since the reformist Presidents and Majlis in the late 1990s, attempts to foster political reform in response to popular dissatisfaction have floundered as conservative religious politicians have prevented reform measures from being enacted, increased repressive measures, and consolidated their control over the government.
Mistrust of the US developed further when they took the side of Iran´s enemy in the bloody Iran-Iraq war - Saddam Hussein! Ironically, the clear victory for the Shia Muslim groups (which were supported by Iran during Ba'athist days) means that Iran and Iraq are now closer than ever.
Condoleezza Rice (now the US secretary of state) hypocritically confirmed that the U.S "loathed" the regime of "unelected mullahs" and noted that "those of us who happen to be on the right side of freedom´s divide" encouraged Iranians to win democracy. She presumably has no knowledge of U.S history, or a very dark sense of humour.
In May 2005, the five-yearly nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference will take place in New York. The U.K government has made no promise to get rid of our nuclear arsenal, and the U.S has already breached the non-proliferation treaty - so yet again it is a case of do as I say, not as I do.
Needless to say, Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has never admitted that they possess nuclear weapons. However, in 1986 Mordechai Vanunu (a technician at the secret Dimona complex) gave the Sunday Times newspaper detailed information about Israel´s nuclear programme that led observers to declare Israel the world´s sixth largest nuclear power. Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome and imprisoned for 18 years for treason following a secret trial. Once released he was placed under house arrest, and his passport was confiscated. He is not allowed to leave Israel, or discuss his work.
Iran has the right under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to develop civilian nuclear energy. The denial that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons is about as convincing as Israel´s denial that they were developing nukes.
If Iran did become a nuclear power, this would pose no threat to the US, which has literally thousands of nukes. However, it might force the U.S to keep troops in the region, and encourage other countries (such as Saudi Arabia) to get their own nukes.
David Kay (one of the weapons inspectors in Iraq after the invasion) notes "there is an eerie similarity to the events preceding the Iraq war... Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran would be a grave danger to the world. That is not what is in doubt. What is in doubt is the ability of the US government to honestly assess Iran´s nuclear status and to craft a set of measures that will cope with that threat short of military action by the United States or Israel".
Chumming up to the world biggest bully may well be our undoing. Ms Rice also noted
"I decided to come first to Britain because we have no better friend; we have no better ally." Then ominously warned "We have done so much together and we still have so much to do together,"