Syria has friend indeed in Iran: analysts

2012-06-13 22:19

Nicosia - As Syria's conflict spirals to vicious new depths, Iran is doubling down on its support for Damascus out of fear of losing its main pillar of regional influence, analysts said.

The backing reflects Tehran and Damascus's shared anti-West, anti-Israel position and mutual succour as each weathers international sanctions and attempts to isolate them.

Tehran's aid to President Bashar al-Assad's regime probably goes well beyond the diplomatic and humanitarian support it has publicised to also include covert military assistance, the analysts said.

Assad is dependant for his survival on Iran, which in turn fears he could be replaced by radical Sunnis who are hostile to Tehran's Shiite rulers and may cut Iran's links to Hamas and Hezbollah.

"Assad’s Syria is the gateway for Iranian influence in the Arab world and the Levant," said Alireza Nader of the US-based think-tank Rand Corporation.

A regime collapse could deal "a large blow to Iranian interests in the Middle East", he said.

Iran's rivals among the Gulf Arab states, "especially Saudi Arabia, realise that Syria is a weak link in Iran’s regional influence. Hence they are eager to see Assad go and be replaced by a Sunni-dominated regime," he said.

A Western diplomat agreed.

"Shi'ite Iran - perhaps rightly - is concerned about what would happen if a pro-Iranian Alawite regime were replaced by one that came to be dominated by the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Iran backs regime

However observers said Iran could be open to a scenario of Assad being replaced - as long as his regime survived and his successor kept the ties to Tehran.

"I believe that Iran does not back Assad as much as it backs the political regime in Syria, though there are very strong ties between the Assad family and the Islamic revolution which goes back to more than 30 years," said Mohammad Saleh Sedghian of the Tehran-based Arabic Centre for Iranian Studies.

Iran would deal with a new leader "on condition the new government maintains Syria's constants, which are the backing of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and opposition to Israel," he said.

Right now, though, Iran is navigating its way through what increasingly resembles a civil war in Syria, fuelled by outside forces.

"The conflict in Syria certainly appears to be getting more brutal -- and not just on one side," the Western diplomat said.

"There is a real risk of it sliding into a proxy war as certain states support the regime or 'the opposition'," the diplomat warned.

Iran accuses Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States of funnelling weapons and fighters into Syria to battle Assad's forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Tehran on Wednesday, also alleged Washington was arming the Syrian rebels.

The United States, Lavrov said, "is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government."

Iranian Revolutionary Guards

Israeli and US officials in turn say Iran is providing Damascus with arms, military muscle and surveillance technology used for repression.

Dina Esfandiary, an Iran analyst at the London-headquartered International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "Although the exact extent of Iran's support is unclear, it is highly likely that it goes beyond money, and includes military aid."

She thought a proxy war was unlikely. "But will Iran use it as an opportunity to make life difficult for everyone involved in the region? Yes, absolutely."

Nader noted "Iran has reportedly provided technical and military support to Bashar al-Assad. Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers have even publicly admitted that they have helped battle insurgents in Syria."

Publicly, Iran has said several cargo flights to Syria have been carrying only medical and humanitarian aid.

But Iran's ISNA news agency ran an interview last month with a senior Revolutionary Guards commander, Ismail Ghani, quoting him as saying the Guards' elite Qods Force was present in Syria.

ISNA later deleted the report without explanation, and Iranian media then quoted an armed forces chief, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, denying Tehran was supporting Damascus other than "intellectually and spiritually."

Tattered peace

Foreign ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, said on Tuesday that a solution to Syria should be found "without foreign interference."

Russia, which protects Damascus against muscular action in the UN Security Council wanted by Western powers, is calling for a multi-nation conference on Syria that should include Iran, despite US opposition.

The aim is to shore up international envoy Kofi Annan's tattered peace plan.

Iran has welcomed the idea, but Washington and some European allies have expressed reluctance.

At the same time, Iran has raised Syria as one of several issues it wants to negotiate in talks about its disputed nuclear programme.

Analysts stressed Iran was taking a risk in supporting Assad's regime so forthrightly.

It may meet immediate foreign policy priorities, but, said Nader, "certain elements of the Iranian government also realise that Iran could be playing a losing game - if Assad falls, then Iran would be left with little or no influence in Syria, a key Arab state."

Read more on:    bashar al-assad  |  syria  |  iran

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.