The Syria Crisis Has Only Political Solution, No Military Option Effective

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rauf Sheibani
Iran's former ambassador to Syria


Q: What is your opinion about the tripartite summit meeting of Iran, Syria and Russia in Ankara over the ongoing crisis in Syria?

A: The Ankara summit was the continuation of joint measures taken so far by Iran, Russia and Turkey to provide a suitable ground for political resolution of the ongoing crisis in Syria. The first meeting of this kind was held in Russia’s resort city of Sochi. The result of that meeting was initiation of a national congress on Syria-Syrian talks. The congress brought together a wide spectrum of political activists and representatives of Syria’s armed opposition groups, on the one side, and the representatives of the Syrian government, on the other, who discussed ways of finding a political solution to the crisis. The meeting also led to the establishment of a number of committees including a committee, which was tasked to amend the Syrian constitution, and another committee to follow up on humanitarian issues and prisoner swap.

After Syrian forces gained ground against opposition groups and following political achievements that took place after the Sochi summit, it was necessary for the leaders of three countries to come together again. Their goal was to discuss what had happened in the political arena and on the ground in Syria and come up with a plan and agreement on the outcome of developments in the Arab country. That successful meeting was indicative of the joint determination of Iran, Russia and Turkey to go on with their effort to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria and reduce grounds for tension in the country. Naturally, such achievements will cause other actors, who see no share for themselves in this process or basically do not believe in a political solution but only continuation of the crisis, to look upon Ankara meeting with doubt and make an effort to challenge its results. I believe that the outcomes of this summit can have a positive impact on the political process started to end the Syria crisis. In general, I believe that the Ankara meeting has an important effect in terms of delineating a bright outlook for future developments in Syria.

Q: What is your opinion about a possible direct confrontation between Iran and the Zionist regime after the regime’s attack on T-4 military base in Syria? Can one assume that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Zionist regime have entered a new phase of hostile confrontation with each other?

A: The Zionist regime is one of the main losers of the current trend in the Syrian crisis. Unlike prior analyses and predictions by Zionists about this crisis, who believed that the course of events in Syria would be in their favor and the fall of the government in Damascus would allow them to put their allies in power, such predictions have proved futile. At the present time, the Zionist regime feels at loss about the ongoing developments on the ground in Syria. The armed opposition and terrorist groups, which were supported by the Zionist regime, have been defeated and are on retreat. At the present time, advances and gains by the Syrian government have caused concern and even fear in the Zionist regime. Therefore, this regime has been resorting to two tactics to prevent further intensification of this trend: 1. to change the subject of the crisis, and 2. to turn the Syrian crisis from a domestic issue into a transnational issue with extended dimensions. At the present time, the Zionist regime is trying through support of the United States and Saudi Arabia to give an Iranian aspect to the crisis in Syria. In doing this, Tel Aviv is trying to introduce Iran as the main factor behind developments in Syria. On the basis of the same plan, the Zionist regime has put on its agenda targeting of the Islamic Republic of Iran's allies as well as joint military bases used by these forces in Syria, including T-4 air base. Of course, it is noteworthy that T-4 is an air base belonging to the Syrian army and Iranian forces – including those Iranian military personnel who were martyred in the previously mentioned attack – use in in a limited manner and for advisory purposes. Therefore, it seems that one of the approaches taken by the Zionist regime is to highlight and magnify Iran's presence in Syria.

It is evident that through this approach, the Zionist regime is trying to overshadow the efforts made through the Ankara summit to find a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis. At the same time, the regime is trying through these measures to offer a new legal framework for its aggressive measures and show that its use of Syria’s air space for any military operation and bombardment of targets in the Arab country is totally legal. In other words, at the present time, Tel Aviv is trying through this conceptualization to convince the global public opinion that its use of the Syrian air space to attack any target is legal and an international right of the regime. The current trend of developments in Syria has stirred extreme concerns among the officials of the Zionist regime and recent military measures taken by this regime can be construed as a passive reaction to what is going on in Syria. In my opinion, the officials of the Zionist regime have made a plan to continue such attacks. However, I do not think that they would dare to go on with these acts of aggression and risk a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the future. The outcomes and consequences of such a military confrontation would be graver for the Zionist regime than the Islamic Republic of Iran, and will face Tel Aviv with very complicated conditions.

Q: What is your opinion about the future outlook of international relations governing the crisis in Syria?

A: I believe that the US government and Trump's administration are currently taking sinuous and mostly contradictory positions on Syria. Once Trump talks about the need to take the American forces out of Syria in the near future and then argues that the presence of those forces in Syria is permissible provided that Arab countries cover the cost of their operations and yet on another occasion, he says the American forces must be replaced with a joint Arab force. It seems that Americans do not have a clear strategy toward Syria and have not reached a final conclusion in this regard. I believe that since the beginning of the crisis, the US strategy and approach to the Syria crisis can be divided into three stages. The first stage was a voluntaristic phase in which Americans believed that they were faced with golden conditions in Syria and must use them to change the country’s regime. The second stage was a period of conservativism in which various factors affected the crisis and the course of developments was at odds with the US interests and threatened them. This period was mostly extant under the former US president, Barack Obama. He opposed any proposal for the United States to play a more active role in the Syria crisis. Obama was afraid about various costs that would entail a more active US role in the Syria crisis. He also believed that the civil war in Syria would erode Iran and Russia in the country. The third stage was a period of revisionism, which started after election of Trump as the new US president. Although Trump has no plan to reduce the United States’ role in the Syria crisis, he has not been able to come up with a clear strategy in this regard either. He has put the Pentagon in charge of various important regional cases and has also authorized limited and occasional military strikes against targets in Syria to show that he is following a revisionist approach. I believe that at the present time, the course of developments in Syria is in favor of the resistance front and Russia. We see that a large part of territories, which were previously under control of terrorist groups or armed organizations supported by the United States, has been retaken by the Syrian government forces and such groups have lost their power to continue the war in Syria. It is also apparent that due to uncertainty that Americans have shown in making decisions, Russians are currently having the upper hand on the ground in Syria and Americans are faced with more difficult conditions. I believe that even Europe cannot help improve the US standing in Syria in a remarkable way, because European countries do not agree with certain parts of Washington’s approach to continue its confrontational policies in the region and will not get along with those policies. In this regard, the viewpoint of Europeans is closer to Russia in that they want to see a speedy resolution to the crisis in Syria. Unlike Americans, Europeans believe that under the current circumstances, there is no alternative to the incumbent Syrian government if it is overthrown and argue that the absence of Bashar Assad’s government will create a dangerous void in this country. In general, we can reach the conclusion that conditions in Syria are faring in favor of the government in Damascus, Iran and Russia and the opposite camp is only trying to prevent a rapid political solution to be found for the crisis in this country. These countries are also trying to buy more time in order to claim a bigger share in the political resolution of this crisis.

Q: Will Iran's policies toward Syria continue in the same manner of the past following the Ankara summit? What is your opinion about conditions for negotiations with Europe in order to provide an effective ground and put a speedy end to the ongoing conflicts in Syria?

A: Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been determined to resolve it rapidly through negotiations. Iran was the first country to come up with the initiative for brining representatives of opposition groups and the Syrian government together under the same roof. The first meeting in this regard was held in Tehran attended by representatives from both sides. It is noteworthy that our country is part of the Middle East and any insecurity and instability in this region will have a practical negative impact on the interests, stability and security of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, we are trying to find a political solution as soon as possible not only to terminate the crisis in Syria, but also to put an end to all existing crises in the region. For this reason, trilateral cooperation has been developed among Iran, Russia and Turkey through the Astana meeting, which has had a very positive impact on reducing tension and crisis in various parts of Syria.

In my opinion, the crisis in Syria has no other solution but a political one and without a doubt, any military approach by any party to this crisis will only prolong it further and add to its complexity. For this reason, if we want to base all our efforts on a political solution, we must note that the format created by Iran, Russia and Turkey is one of the best formats to achieve such a goal. In my opinion, other countries must use all their potentialities to bolster this approach. Undermining this approach will only lead to the continuation of the military approach, war, insecurity an instability. I think that if Europeans want to see this crisis ebb in the shortest time possible and finally end, they must use all their potential not to weaken the central government in Damascus through missile attacks against it, but to bolster efforts made by Iran, Russia and Turkey.


 Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs


*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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