Saturday, August 13, 2011

…And What About Iran?

By Walid Choucair
Many of the approaches to the evolving foreign stances on the dramatic and bloody chain of events in Syria are ignoring the extent to which the Iranian stance has an impact in Syria, and thus on any negotiations over a political settlement.
If the events in Syria over recent days, whether in terms of the regime's bloody campaign against a number of cities, which killed a number of people, or the hints that pressure by the Arabs, the Gulf, the west and Turkey, crowned by the visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday to Damascus, raises the possibility of arriving at a formula for a settlement to the Syrian crisis, then another question also arises, once again. What is Tehran's stance on the formula, if there is a chance for a settlement between the regime and its opponents? Where does Tehran stand on this possible development?
One should not ignore the notion that no foreign party, whether it sympathizes with the Syrian opposition or the regime, is able to control the dynamic of the struggle between the two sides. However, wagering on the idea that foreign pressure will lead to a brake on the regime's policy of "the security approach" in favor of a political option appears to be difficult if one ignores Tehran's role in seeing the Syrian regime lean one way or another.
Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan believes that what is taking place in Syria is a Turkish domestic matter, while Tehran has behaved as if the situation in Syria is an Iranian issue par excellence. Iran believes that what is taking place is a foreign conspiracy against Syria because of its stance in support of the resistance to Israel. It was natural for Iran to see the toppling of the Syrian regime under the weight of domestic or foreign pressure, or a change in the nature of this regime, as a loss of one of its regional "cards" that it had gathered in recent years; Iran will not give up on this regime easily.
The Iranian leadership dealt with the foreign efforts, especially by Turkey, during the visit on 10 July by Davutoglu to Tehran, based on the idea that "if we are forced to choose between Syria and Turkey, we choose Syria." The events of the last few weeks have not proven this option wrong. Syria has also moved toward the Iranian option, from the beginning, and not the Turkish option, which calls on the Syrian president to speed up reforms and carry out what he has promised.
Iran has played a role in offering security-related advice and has followed, from within Syria, the regime's plans to crack down on the Syrian intifada, as if it is an internal Iranian matter. Moreover, Iran has used its influence in Iraq to secure factors of economic support for the regime, by providing it with oil and consumer goods needed to confront the impact of western economic sanctions on liquidity in Syria. Iran has provided direct financial assistance to secure this liquidity. Many people believe that this is one of the reasons why Gulf countries have abandoned their silence on the developments in Syria; Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz sent a letter to Syria on 7 August, calling on the Syrian leadership to choose between "wisdom and halting the killing machine, or being dragged into confusion and loss." He lost hope in the possibility of decoupling the regime from Iran and its plans in the region, which include Gulf countries, naturally.
Such a reading is not dispelled by Syrian hints, made by those who speak for the regime and its allies in Lebanon, that warn of seeing Tehran use its many cards in a number of Arab countries, in a bid to confront the attempts to topple the Syrian regime. They hint that Tehran will mobilize opposition in Gulf regimes and have Hezbollah ratchet up its control over Lebanon, with the possibility of a military confrontation opened in the south, a new war launched against the American presence in Iraq, and a hard-line stance on negotiating over the continued presence of these troops in the country after the scheduled withdrawal at the end of the year.
This could turn Syria, more than any other time, into an Iranian card, because the future of its regime is linked to the plans of Tehran. Indeed, Tehran's role in Syria can only be enhanced by hearing the discussions of scenarios that are less costly than those required by a total confrontation in the region led by Iran to defend the Syrian regime, by Tehran's entering a settlement at its expense. These scenarios indicate that Iran might abandon the Syria card, in exchange for American acknowledgment of its total influence in Iraq in its ongoing under-the-table negotiations over this point. But the campaign by its allies, especially the movement of Muqtada Sadr, does not indicate that this trade-off has succeeded. The scenarios that hold that Tehran is trying to replace its reliance on the Syrian card with a reconciliation with Egypt, and that it began opening contacts with the Syrian opposition a considerable time ago, and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, anticipating a change in regime, all indicate that Iran is a factor, negative or positive, in the current Syrian situation. Did the recent movement by Turkey, with Arab and international support, take this into consideration?
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 12/08/2011

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