For years, Tehran has issued a lot of disinformation concerning the purpose, level of support, the deployment of troops, the definition of terrorists, the definition of military presence and the definition of foreign interference in the Syrian civil war:
- Purpose: includes “humanitarian aid”, “religious, human and ethical duties”, a “moral obligation”, accepting an “invitation” to help, fighting Sunni/Wahabi/Tafkiri terrorists, defending Syria from Zionist plots, defending the Iranian empire, defending Alawites/Shiites etc…
- Level of support: money, supplying weapons, deploying troops, supporting troops, areal support, military intelligence etc…
- Deployment of troops: “advisors”, Hezbollah militias, IRGC/Qods troops, Basij militias, commando troops etc…
- Definition of terrorists: ISIS, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, USA/UK, Saudi Arabia etc…
- Definition of military presence and foreign interference: West/Saudis = unwanted foreign interference and military presence, Hezbollah/Iran/Russia = political and military support “at the request of the government“
For years, every day could bring a new spin on what, how, where and with whom Tehran is involved in Syria and the next day would bring a denial and another spin.
But one fact has remained steadfast throughout all these years and that is Tehran’s unconditional support for Bashar al-Assad who seems to have more fans in Tehran than he does in Damascus. This fact begs for one very important question: How will Assad repay Tehran for all its “help”? The answer my friend, is blowing in the winds over Beirut and Baghdad.
Assad is Tehran’s Red Line
Last week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s top advisor Ali Akbar Velayati restated thatAssad is an official “red line” for Tehran and that means that Tehran will not accept any solution, political or military, in which Assad is deposed. It is noteworthy that Velayati speaks of Assad and not of Assad’s government even though it isn’t really Assad the person who really interests Tehran but Assad the Alawite/Shiite minority head of a state who could turn Syria into another Iranian vassal state such as Lebanon and to lesser degrees, Iraq, Yemen and even Bahrain. The names of these countries always come up when Khamenei talks about “Exporting the Revolution” or about the saving the “oppressed” and they are, in Tehran’s view, an integral part of the future Shiite Crescent and in the more distant future, the core of a Global Islamic Awakening.
From this perspective, Tehran doesn’t really care how many Syrians are killed, wounded or displaced, how long will the war carry on or even how disastrous this war is for the economy and lives of Syrians. Nor does Tehran really care whether Assad is now the legitimate leader of the Syrian people or even if there still is an encompassing definition of a “Syrian people”. What matters in Tehran is that the person at the head of the Syrian government will continue to be its strategically placed regional ally in the “axis of resistance” against the West and against Israel.
And what about Assad? From his point of view, Tehran, together with Moscow, are “friends from abroad” who have come to help fight Tafkiri terrorists and the “dishonesty of the West” and save Syrians from “inhumane suffering” – of course, he doesn’t mention that over his government is responsible for nearly 95% of the death toll in Syria.
Tehran needs Syria
Before Hassan Rouhani became president, Tehran was coming under a lot of fire from the West, Saudi Arabia and the UN for its unwavering support of Assad but Rouhani managed to shut most of the criticism by rebranding the civil war in Syria as a war between a legitimate leader against terrorists (ISIS) following his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) proposal to the UN. For all intents and purposes, Tehran was in Syria to help Assad kill terrorists. When Western powers bombed ISIS strongholds, Tehran made it clear that a) they were not successful and b) they had no right to take part in the war since ISIS’s birth was midwifed by the West. But when Russia joined the war, Tehran heaped praises on Moscow for being successful and for being a legitimate partner.
This link between Assad/Syria and fighting terrorism opened up the way to not only shut down criticism (who can criticize people who are killing ISIS terrorists?) but also to take some sort of “ownership” on the destiny of Syrians. No matter how many times Tehran repeated that the fate of Syria lies only within the hands of Syrians, it continued to meddle as IRGC Commander Mohammad Jafari stated: “We will continue to support the survival of the Syrian government and its sovereignty and territorial integrity and will never allow any partitioning of any of Muslim territories“. Why does Jafari care so much about Syria? According to him, the “Syrian frontline” is “an exercise ground for mobilizing the Islamic world against enemies” and “the conditions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are good and developments are in favor of the Islamic Revolution”.
Damascus to follow Beirut and Baghdad
It’s really no secret that Damascus has joined Beirut and Baghdad on being totally dependent on Tehran. It doesn’t make a difference that many Syrians, Lebanese and Iraqis despise this dependence because at the end of the day, Tehran’s rule over these countries is backed by its money, its military and especially its proxy, Hezbollah. Hezbollah has become Tehran’s foreign legion, a legion which ignores borders and nationalities. Without it, Tehran would have to send its own troops which would not only add criticism by Iranians regarding the mounting death toll, it would provoke its regional and global enemies to react openly. But Hezbollah is stateless and can therefore fight for whoever is willing to let them fight. In other countries such as Yemen and even Bahrain, Tehran is still far from its goal thanks to the pressure by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis but that doesn’t stop Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from including them in the list of countries which he wants to “free from oppression“.
But Tehran should listen to the voices of the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Yemenites and the Bahrainis who don’t want to be “protected” by Tehran – it is their voices that are being heard by the world as proof that Tehran isn’t acting out of compassion for them but is using them as pawns in a global power game which they do not want to be part of.