With its ongoing military action in Georgia, Russia is sending a loud message to the West that it is back and capable of acting effectively in its periphery. That message is also being heard in Iran. Russia's show of strength is making Tehran weigh its options — both in how it deals with the United States in talks over Iraq and how it handles its relationship with Russia.
Through its ongoing military offensive against the former Soviet state of Georgia, Russia is sending a strong and deliberate message to the West: Russia is back, and ready to reassert its prowess in Eurasia at the expense of Western interests. That message is being heard loud and clear in Tehran, and has significant implications for U.S.-Iranian negotiations over Iraq. Russia's actions in the Caucasus have exposed the current limits on the U.S. military's capacity. Aside from U.N. Security Council meetings and public condemnations of Russian aggression, there is little to nothing the United States can do right now to intervene in Georgia. Russia is well aware that the United States has its hands full with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and did not waste the opportunity to pound the Georgians and reassert Russian influence over its periphery without having to worry about Western interference. Russia's actions have set off alarms in Washington. Now more than ever, the United States is feeling an overwhelming urgency to seal up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so it can focus on issues more vital to U.S. national security in Eurasia. Afghanistan carries its fair share of complications, but any resolution to Iraq has to come through negotiations with Iran, and for this reason, Washington has every reason to furiously push these negotiations toward some sort of final accommodation. The hardest part of these negotiations is already done; the level of violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq over the past year thanks to a U.S. military surge, political negotiations with Iraq's Sunni faction and an Iranian strategic need to contain Iraq's Shiite militias. While a number of sticking points remain, the matter of Washington and Iran striking a deal in Iraq is no longer a distant possibility, as long as both sides see the need to move forward on a deal. Iran is now considering its options. On the one hand, Iran clearly sees a Russian intent to reassert its prowess in the Caucasus as an affront to the West. The Iranians could use this Russian offensive to try to lure Moscow into selling Tehran key weapons systems (such as the S-300 air defense system) at a time when Russia is bent on showing the West that it is a major force in Eurasia with a far-reaching capability to upset U.S foreign policy. But the Iranians have also likely grown weary of the Russians stringing them along in these weapons sales for years. There is no guarantee that Moscow would follow through with any such arms deals, especially as Israeli defense officials have been pumping out a number of statements on restricting sales of military hardware to Georgia over the past several days. In an Aug. 10 Jerusalem Post report, an Israeli defense official even claimed that Israel saw this outbreak of hostilities between Georgia and Russia "several months ago," and decided to "drastically minimize sales of weapons to Georgia," leaving open the possibility that Israel had had a conversation with the Russians when making that decision. Through these statements, Israel could be implying that a strategic deal has been struck with the Russians for Moscow to restrict arms sales to Israel's adversaries in places like Iran and Syria, while Israel in turn cuts back on military assistance to Georgia. The Iranians also understand that they do not have a lot of time to deal with the Russians and stall on an agreement with the United States. With the United States facing a wake-up call to get its forces out of the Middle East and back into a position to respond to a growing Russian threat, now is the time for Iran to move forward in its negotiations — when Washington is feeling extremely vulnerable and is on an election timetable. Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani even spoke to this point Aug. 10 when he announced at a seminar for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that the United States is facing a strategic deadline in the region, stressing the critical situation that Washington now finds itself in. It must also be remembered that Iran takes no comfort in a resurgent Russia bearing down on the Caucasus, potentially threatening Iran's northern frontier. Containing a Russian comeback in the Caucasus is an issue that both Washington and Tehran can agree on. The geopolitical logic dictates that both Iran and the United States should now be moving closer and faster to a deal on Iraq. Signs of such progress will be revealed through a seemingly contradictory blend of heavy military posturing and positive movement on issues related to Iraq and the nuclear issue. What remains to be seen is whether the Iranians and the Americans back up this logic with action.