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Iran's Irreversible Path in Syria

08/09/11 By: Dr. Ali Bigdeli, University Professor and International Affairs Analyst (source: Iranian Diplomacy)

Bashar Al-Assad with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran (August 2009)

Since the Islamic revolution and especially after the Iran-Iraq war, Iran approached Iraq’s enemy Syria. Syria and Iraq had hostile relations due to their different interpretations of the Baath political philosophy. This relationship led to Iran's generous assistance, particularly in oil sales, to Syria. During those years Parliament had passed a bill that guaranteed four million dollars of oil be sold to Syria at lower than the global price; we also gave one million tons of oil to Syria for free. The Syrian debt to us was about 5 billion dollars. Therefore, our regional policy during the 8-year war with Iraq was tied to Syria.

Nevertheless, then President Hafiz Al-Assad confronted us opportunistically. I wrote a book at that time on Iraq’s political history and I came upon a document which indicated that Hafiz Al-Assad annually received about 250 thousand dollars from the US.

In addition Al-Assad voted with the Emirates on many occasions over the ownership of the three disputed Persian Gulf islands, after the establishment of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. In an interview he had said that he could not separate Arabism from his country. This proves that Arabism had priority over Islamism in Syria.

However, since we were at war during Al-Assad’s time, we had no other choice but to expand our relations with Syria. After the Resistance movement in Lebanon this relationship became even closer. Mr. Mousavi, the former Resistance leader, had close relations with Hafiz Al-Assad. This relationship continued until Hafiz passed away and his son Bashar came to power, but the relationship did not change much even then. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s first foreign meeting after his (first) election to the Iranian presidency was with Bashar Al-Assad, who had come to Tehran to congratulate him. With the Gaza issue our relations became even closer and we invested in Syria’s infrastructures.

After the “Arab Spring” developments started to spread to Syria, we preferred to keep quiet and even support Syria on international levels based on our strategic relations and friendship. Our behavior with Syria differed from that of Turkey.

The interesting point is that Turkey had the most investment in Syria. Turkey has the greatest political and economic relations with Syria. But we witnessed how cleverly Mr. Erdogan reacted to Syria’s situation. He used the same policy toward Lebanon and Libya as well. The escape of the Syrian opposition to Turkey gave the upper hand to the Turks. Turkey’s clever policy toward Syria is a sign of its leadership in the Muslim world. It seems that Turkey has snatched that leadership from Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s hands. The share of leadership that we had has been taken away and Turkey now has the full leadership of Arab and non-Arab countries of the region, including India, in its grasp.

Currently, we assume that if Syria faces any insecurity leading to Bashar Al-Assad’s removal, we will lose our link to the most powerful military potential in the region, Hezbollah. Therefore, Iran is putting all its strength into stabilizing the situation in Syria.

The truth is that we have entered an irreversible path. Since the first days of protests we announced our support for Bashar Al-Assad. We censored Syria’s news and supported the government wherever possible. We might not be able to go back from this path since we are already in the middle of it. We cannot change our policy regarding Syria or take away our support from it. We will continue this path until we see what will become of our strategic friend.

Regarding the reforms Bashar has announced, it should be said that in politics reforms are useful when they occur before uprisings take place. When movements start, it means that reforms were unsuccessful. After the killing of more than two thousand people, reform does not make sense. The Syrian people had limited demands in the first days of the protests, but now they demand is that Bashar Al-Assad, his family and all the Alawis should leave power.

In a situation like this reform will not do any good, and the continuation of resistance by Asad’s opponents shows that they have learnt from the experience of other Arab countries. The resistance of people in Arab countries is very interesting. In none of the revolutions worldwide had we witnessed people resisting continuously for months. Protesters are killed every day, but they continue their uprising. We cover the resistance of people in Yemen and Libya, but we say nothing about Syria. However, the future of all three will be the same, since the time for reform has passed in Syria. Therefore we should be skeptical about the continuation of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

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