Is an Israeli or American strike on Iran's nuclear weapons program being held up by the raging Syrian war, and the unstable status of Syria's chemical weapons?
Syria possesses the Middle East's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, which include deadly VX nerve gas, sarin, and mustard gas. It has also developed an advanced Scud missile program to serve as a delivery mechanism.
In addition, Damascus has a reported biological weapons program.
There are several factors currently at play in Syria and the region indicating that the future of those weapons is uncertain -- a factor that could prompt military planners to push back a strike on Iran to ensure that resources are available to deal with these threats from Syria if necessary, including jihadi organizations of all stripes who could try to snatch these incredibly dangerous arms.
Further, as Syrian rebels continue their country-wide military assault on the Assad regime, pro-Assad elements have taken to the airwaves in recent days to openly threaten outside forces with unconventional weapons.
While Israel has openly been singled out as the target of their devastation, the messages are directed just as much, if not more, at Turkey and other NATO forces who are contemplating a limited invasion of northern Syria.
An invasion would be aimed at setting up safe havens for displaced Syrians, thereby stemming the flood of Syrian refugees who are flowing into Turkey.
"Let me tell you something. I cannot tell a lie. We have biological weapons. What's the problem? We have advanced weapons. Why lie to the people? We have them. That is what's known as the balance of power. You [Israel] have nuclear weapons, and we have advanced biological weapons," Syrian MP Ahmad Shlash, deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, recently told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television in a clip translated by MEMRI.
The same MP said that Syria has "all types of missiles. All types of missiles! Let them bear in mind and take into consideration that Syria has both chemical and biological weapons".
In another TV appearance, Syrian MP Sharif Shehade said: "If the Syrian government has weapons of that type – of course they will use them against any attacker. What should we do with them? Make tabouleh or fattoush salads? Of course we will use them against our attackers. That's only natural."
The threats emanating out of Syria and Turkey's posture regarding a potential intervention mean that the civil war could escalate into a regional international conflict involving the possible use of unconventional weapons -- a contingency that could also place plans for a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites on temporary hold.
A military operation targeting Iran at this time could also tempt Assad to join an Iranian and Hezbollah counter-strike that would involve firing of thousands of rockets and missiles at the Israeli home front.
Although Assad would be risking a lethal Israeli knockout blow to his regime by joining a counter-strike, he could reason that if he survived the confrontation, he would regain legitimacy at home and in the Arab world, thereby regaining at least some of his crumbling position. The more desperate and embattled Assad is, the more likely he might be to involve Syria in an Iranian counter-strike.
Waiting until Assad is overthrown would eliminate the most dangerous potential war front that could open up after a strike on Iran.
In the estimate of many Syria experts, once the Assad regime falls, Syria will fracture into warring ethnic-sectarian provinces for a considerable period of time, meaning that Syria would have no ability to initiate conflict with its neighbors.
Even if a new government managed to come to power in Syria, it would in all likelihood be a Sunni-dominated entity, hostile to Shi'ite Iran and its southern Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, both of which have been accessories to the war crimes being perpetuated against Syrian Sunnis. A Sunni-led Syria would go from being an Iranian ally to a hostile foe of the Shi'ite theocracy.
The loss of its major regional ally, Syria, could be a blow to Iran that might even induce it to speed up its nuclear program.
The coming weeks and months will determine if Assad will be overthrown and if Iran will reach the point of no return -- and the consequences to the region.