Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Syrians wary of Iranian deal

What is good news for Iran is not necessarily a good thing for the Syrian people, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The preliminary nuclear agreement signed in Lausanne, Switzerland, between Iran and the P5+1 Group of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany has been greeted with scepticism in Syria.

Although some Syrians had hoped that Iranian influence in Syria might be curbed as a result of the deal, many expected Tehran to use the immense frozen funds that will be freed as a result of the deal to fortify the beleaguered Syrian regime.

But one thing is certain: the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is jubilant over the deal. In official statements as well as in the state media, the deal has been portrayed as a victory for Tehran.

Lashing out at Arab countries that have opposed the Iranian nuclear programme, the government and its friends voiced hopes that some of the $200 billion in frozen Iranian funds will now be channelled into economic and military aid for the Syrian regime.

The opposition is worried that the deal may usher in a US-Iranian rapprochement which Tehran may use to ratchet up its influence in the region, starting with Syria. But this sentiment has been contradicted by some opposition members who believe that Iranian influence will ebb in the region and that the deal is merely a first step towards clipping Tehran’s wings.

Louay Safi, former spokesman for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said that although the deal would lead to a “strict monitoring programme” to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons, it might also increase its ability to “fund its military intervention in Syria.”

According to Safi, Iran has spent about $34 billion propping up the Syrian regime over the past three years. With its additional funds, Iran will be able to “help what is left of Al-Assad’s regime to hold on to power,” he said.

Iran is intent on expanding its influence in the region through the use of loyal “Shiite groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” Safi stated.

Syrian opposition member Sayed Moqbil was less pessimistic, saying that the Iranian deal with the P5+1 Group was “an agreement of capitulation.”

“There are no secret political and security clauses in the deal, and all the media propaganda that the Syrian regime is circulating is nothing but a joke,” he said. Iran, Moqbil added, “will not be allowed to meddle in the region’s security, whether in the Middle East or in the Gulf. Its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will end.”

Syrian commentator Ali Al-Abdullah believes the deal is unlikely to change Iran’s regional policies.

“What impelled Iran to negotiate and ultimately make a deal is its weak domestic situation and the social tensions resulting from unemployment, the collapse of the local currency, and the inability of the government to provide fuel and raw materials for industry and agriculture,” he said.

“Iran has monetary reserves that are acceptable of $110 billion, but it has suffered from ostracism and isolation and also from the erosion of its infrastructure.”

According to Al-Abdullah, Iran is unlikely to “increase the level of its involvement in the current confrontation in Syria.” Iran has already gone all the way in Syria, and apart from keeping the regime afloat it has not made much progress, Al-Abdullah added.

“Tehran tried and failed to crush the revolution and win the military conflict. Its defeat in southern Syria in a battle led by Al-Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani is still fresh in our memory,” he said.

Instead, Iran is likely to spend its newly acquired funds on taking care of its own people at home. “It will focus on the internal situation and try to address the problems facing its citizens in work, health, education and infrastructure,” Al-Abdullah noted.

Moussa Al-Nabhan of the opposition Syrian Sons Rally is wary of Iranian intentions.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, he said that “the agreement the West has hailed as historic will not be a complete success. Iran will not give up its nuclear programme, nor will it abandon its dream of becoming a global military power.”

Al-Nabhan added that “the agreement doesn’t include any provisions indicating military sanctions if Iran were to violate its commitments. It only mentions the resumption of economic sanctions.”

He voiced the hope that “prudent people” in the US administration would not let the deal go through.

For his part, Safi said that nothing Iran might do could reverse the course of the Syrian Revolution. “The Syrian Revolution is the main victim of this deal. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Iran will be able to stop the march of the revolution,” he said.

As a result of the deal, Al-Nabhan predicted, “the suffering of the Syrian people will now be longer.”

The only hope for the speedy downfall of the regime, he added, was through “the creation of a regional coalition that truly supports the revolution, one that is led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey”.

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