General Firouzabadi, who is the chief of the Iranian General Staff, has been warning the West about helping the Uber-Sunnis of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Lebanon. That's not surprising; Iran doesn't want to lose regimes that are allied to, or cowed by, it. But there is something else going on. For thirty years the Islamic Republic of Iran has seen itself as not only the inspiration for the world's Musilms, but the obvious head of the world's Muslims. It has been learning, to its great chagrin, that not even taking the lead, and doing its utmost, to wipe out Israel --- though no doubt if this were to occur screams of pleasure would go up all over Muslim lands -- will cause Iran to be seen as a leader. For the Iranians are Shi'a, despised by the Sunnis who, in whatever lands there is a large enough Shi'a population to matter, but small enough not itself to rule, as it does in Iran -- there the Sunnis disenfranchise, or do not share the national wealth with, or suppress by state power and by the informal application of force by Sunni terrorists and even those Sunnis who just want to have a good time attacking Shi'a (as happens in Pakistan, as a sport and a pastime). The late Al-Zarqawi and those who followed him used to rant about the Shi'a in Iraq as "Rafidite dogs," and it is clear that the Sunnis will never accept their loss of power, and therefore of money, to the Shi'a in Iraq, even though Shi'a Arabs outnumber Sunni Arabs by more than three to one.
Outside Iraq, the Shi'a institutions, and individual Shi'a -- are attacked, and blown up by Sunni terrorist groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba in Pakistan, kept down by systematic formal and informal persecution in the Eastern Province -- the oil-bearing region --of Saudi Arabia, subdued by force in Yemen when they try to obtain more autonomy, treated with contumely by the Sunnis, always better off than the despised Shi'a, in Lebanon, suppressed by force in Bahrain, prevented from obtaining political power equal to their numbers in Kuwait.
Not everyone in Iran, even in government circles, is a fool. Not everyone can remain permanently unaware that the Shi'a can't possibly hope to become the "leader" of Sunni Muslims, and some Shi'a may now be wondering if they face, not only in Syria, but elsewhere, a determined Sunni effort, that will not end, to push the Shi'a down, to reduce their influence, their power, their revenues, their numbers, their everything.
It may be time at least to consider what, using that phrase beloved of so many, might constitute a "Grand Bargain" with Shi'a Iran.
1. The Western world demands assurances from the Syrian regime that it will cease to support Hezbollah in Lebanon, and will no longer concern itself with Lebanon at all. The Iranians must agree rather than oppose this.
2.. The Western world stops putting pressure on the Syrian regime and does nothing to keep it from suppressing the Sunni Arabs who threaten it. That means the war inside Syria goes on forever, as the Sunni opposition continues to weaken the regime but never manage to topple it. The Alawites are forced to concentrate on staying in power with Christian, Druze, Kurdish, and some Sunni support, but have no ability to meddle outside Syria's borders.
3, The Western world -- that is, the United States -- promises that if Iran gives up its nuclear project, the American government will do nothing to damage the conventional military capabilities of Iran, and secretly gives assurances that it understands that Iran has to remain sufficiently strong to protect itself against the Sunni menace, which is also recognized as a grave threat to the West.
4. In addition, the Americans undertake to prevent Sunni Muslims --the Taliban, for example -- from renewing their campaign to wipe out the Shi'a Hazara in Afghanistan.
5. In the Persian Gulf, the Americans will do nothing to oppose or prevent Iran from making its claims to certain islands in the Gulf, and to Bahrain.
6. The Iranian government is only required to do one thing: give up its nuclear project. It is warned that if it does not do so, the sanctions will never be removed, but go on forever. And as Iran becomes steadily poorer, it will become steadily weaker, and even with a few nuclear weapons, will find itself unable to protect Shi'a populations outside of Iran (say, in Afghanistan, or in Bahrain, or in Lebanon); it will be easier for Sunni Arabs to prey on Iran itself. It is not farfetched to imagine the oil-bearing region of Khuzistan, largely populated by ethnic Arabs, and that part of western Baluchistan which is in Iran's east, and is largely populated by Sunnis, both wanting to break away. And if the Kurds in western Iran were to do so, in order to join the Kurds now practically autonomous in northern Iraq, or the Azeris, fed up with Islamic fanatics, wanted to take control of the territory they inhabit in Iran and join it to secular and therefore comparatively advanced Azerbaijan, what would then be left of Iran?
This Grand Bargain would require that the Iranians come to their senses, soon.
And that is unlikely. The Iranians and the Americans -- they just can't get started. Don't get me started.