Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Guarding the regime

Iran wants to legitimise its interference in Syrian affairs by implying that a large segment of the Syrian population supports its efforts, but the opposition disagrees

Al-Ahram Weekly

Tehran hosted a conference on dialogue in Syria last week that was attended by representatives of the Syrian government, officials from the ruling Syrian Baath Party, MPs, the leaders of political parties operating under the aegis of the regime and pro-regime independent figures, reports Bassel Oudat. No independent opposition figures attended.

Iran said that the conference was designed to launch a dialogue between opponents and supporters of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, claiming that opposition forces would also be participating.

It claimed that the opposition had agreed to the conference, which it said would serve as the starting point for broad dialogue between the opposition and the regime. However, the opposition rejected this claim, pointing to the failure of mediation efforts to try to convince the regime to stop its military crackdown against the people.

Ragaa Al-Nasser, secretary of the opposition National Coordination Committee (NCC), noted that it was decided not to participate in any gathering in Iran. Al-Nasser told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Iranians had tried to convince the NCC that they were planning a discussion panel, but later it became apparent that they were preparing a broad-based conference attended by nearly 200 pro-regime figures.

“Since the beginning, Iran has been a party to the crisis in Syria,” Al-Nasser said. “It is a primary supporter of the Syrian regime”. The NCC would reject any conference or initiative led by the Iranians “because they have no credibility”, he said.

Rodeif Mustafa, a lawyer and director of the human rights division at the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said that “Iran is coordinating with the regime to create a fictional opposition to parade in front of the world that is similar to the Progressive National Front associated with the regime.”

“It is trying to support the exhausted Syrian regime, which has lost legitimacy on the domestic and international fronts. This means that the Iranian regime remains part of the problem and can in no way be considered part of the solution.”

“The Iranian regime is a collaborator and has been encouraging more killing in Syria. Anyone attending this conference is part of the regime. They should have saved their energy and met in Damascus instead of going to Tehran.”

Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime, has been trying to suggest that part of the Syrian opposition is allied to it and that the Syrian masses support its actions in a bid to impose itself as a key player in the Syrian crisis.

These attempts have been rejected by the majority of Syrians because of Iran’s interference in Syrian affairs.

“Iran wants to imply that there are opposition forces close to it, which is false,” said Monzer Khaddam, a spokesman for the NCC, the umbrella group for the largest number of opposition forces inside Syria.

“Iran can never be an honest broker in the Syrian crisis as its leaders want it to be. Tehran is not neutral, and it has supported the regime since the first days of the uprising.”

Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran’s Shura Council, visited Syria a few days ago and several times implied that Iran was embraced by the Syrian masses and was part of the solution in Syria.

Larijani even indicated that Tehran held the keys to the solution of the crisis and that it was consulting with all parties on this. He praised the “wise leadership” of Syria’s president, adding that Iran “supports the democratic reform process” implemented by Al-Assad.

Tehran, he said, welcomed democracy in Syria through political dialogue with the regime and rejected any preconditions.

“It appears that Iran is even more hardline than Russia regarding the Syrian crisis,” one European diplomat told the Weekly. “Russia could accept early elections in Syria, but Iran rejects that notion as part of the political transition and will do anything to sabotage any initiative that does not guarantee that Al-Assad remains in power.”

“What is happening in Syria is a question of destiny for Iran, and it will throw its weight behind the Syrian regime so the regime does not fall.”

SNC Chair George Sabra said that the battle by the revolutionaries against the regime was “a pan-Arab battle against the Iranian tide in the region, [in order] for Syria not to become a stronghold for Iranian influence in Arab society.”

He accused Iran of supplying “snipers” to the Syrian regime and confirmed that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had taken many Iranian prisoners.

“The Iranians declare that the battle for Syria is their own battle, which means they are heavily involved in Syrian affairs,” he said. “We completely reject that. No one can ignore, either, how Hizbullah’s policies have undermined the Syrian revolution in political and financial terms, as well as in terms of morale. Anyone who supports the regime is responsible for spilling Syrian blood.”

Hizbullah is an Iranian ally in the region.

“We don’t want to make enemies,” Sabra said. We can begin with a policy of tolerance and national conciliation, but this is contingent on Hizbullah genuinely changing its position and apologising to the Syrian people for its support of the regime.”

“We want to live within a framework of international law, parity in relations and non-interference in internal affairs. Al-Assad’s regime allowed Syria to become a conduit for Iranian influence in the Arab world. We want Syria to take its historic place at the heart of the Arab world.”

Iranian diplomatic efforts to portray itself as part of the solution in Syria have been met with scepticism by most observers, with the international community believing that Iran’s goal is to improve the image of the Syrian regime and to implement a strategic plan with sectarian dimensions throughout the Middle East.

The opposition’s claims about Iran’s complicity in the Syrian crisis have been backed by evidence, since over recent months armed opposition groups have captured 48 Iranian hostages whom Tehran has implicitly admitted were card-carrying members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard visiting Shiite holy sites in Syria.

Other armed groups have arrested members of Iran’s Al-Quds Forces and snipers, but Iran has not acknowledged these. Syrian revolutionaries have announced that military commanders from Hizbullah have been killed in Syria, while the Lebanese Shiite group has said that they were killed in a “jihadist mission” without giving further details.

“We must be aware of Iran’s role in the Syrian crisis, which is dissimilar to the Russian one,” opposition member Bashar Al-Eissa explained to the Weekly. “The relationship between Iran and the Syrian regime is organic, and Iran is part of the problem that has afflicted Syria for more than 30 years.”

“Because of its Shia ideological identity, the Iranian regime can never be part of the solution because there can be no solution without the ouster of the regime, which is something Tehran can never accept. It has established a network of strategic interests in Syria because of its ideology.”

The crisis facing the Syrian leadership has taken Iran by surprise, and Iran may now think that the Syrian regime must be saved at any price. Accordingly, Tehran is trying to promote political proposals to cover up the failure of the regime’s military operations and gain time, in the belief that the regime can end the crisis by military force.

The opposition and the revolutionaries assert that they are now not only fighting the Al-Assad regime, but also Iran, which wants to impose the regime on them by force. They have declared that the battle against them is being managed by Tehran, which is assisting the regime amid international hesitations about arming the Syrian revolutionaries.

It would appear that Iran has put itself in the same boat as the Syrian regime, and it will be near impossible for Tehran to abandon it.

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