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Understanding Iran's Perception of Syrian Turbulence

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ali Omidi
Assistant Professor of International Relations in University of Isfahan-Iran

Robert Jervis in “Perception and Misperception in International Politics”, investigates how international political decision-makers perceive themselves, other actors, and the environment; how perceptions and misperceptions can influence their decisions; and how such decisions can influence outcomes in international politics. This issue is very true to Iran's attitudes toward Syrian developments. Explosion in the building of the Syrian National Security Council and the assassination of the Syrian Defense Minister, other top brass of Syrian security personnel have been accounted as a unique and a turning point event in the Syria's political developments since the start of unrest. It seems that the main purpose of this terrorist action has been to show the fragility of the regime and to challenge the role of Russia, China and Iran in Syria's international balance of power. Syrian opposition tries to complicate the crisis through the lessening of the army's morale and Syrian people. They have wanted to prove that even the heartland of Bashar Al- Assad's regime is not secure anymore. By dragging the war into Aleppo and trying to make another Ben- Ghazi in Syria, the situations are getting out of control at this juncture. One of the questions that are raised after this event is that: does the policy of Iran toward Syria will change after these events? Why, unlike other Arab revolutions, the developments against President Assad have not been supported by Tehran?

To answer these questions, it has to be noted that in Tehran's perception, the nature of events in Syria is different with other Arab Spring's countries for the following reasons:

1. Iran's understanding is that in countries such as Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the majority of people opposed the ruling regime and just a weak minority supported them; but it is quite the reverse in Syria. The vast majority of people in Syria have repeatedly expressed their support to the president and just a minority, mainly from border cities has been pitched against the government. The main Syrian oppositions include groups such as Al-Qaeda, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (unlike Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has Salafist tendencies) and the dissident Kurds. There are some other small groups that are in line with the strategy of opposition. The type of massacre by the rebels in Syria show that it is similar to other actions which had been made by Salafist groups; such as mutilation, peeling, scorching and other evil deeds.

2. In Tehran's perception, the Syrian regime is not dependent to the West; in contrast to the other Arab leaders who were puppets of the US. One of target of other Arab Spring have been against the US and Israel, while the Syrian regime is completely anti-American and anti-Israeli. Tehran believes that the Syrian rebels have been incited and assisted mainly by the US and Israel.

3. The assistance of reactionary Arab sultans such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar against Syria are a good proof of this claim that the issue of Syria is not reform or democracy. In Tehran's mind, it is unlikely for the non-democratic sultans to strive for democracy.

This is why that Iran has supported the movement of people in the other Arab Spring cases, but movement within Syria is no labeled as a “genuine movement” by Tehran. Accordingly, the Supreme Leader in Iran opined that Tehran just supports movements which are “Islamic” and “anti- arrogance”; in Tehran it is believed that Syrian opposition movement not only does not have any of these features, but also unfortunately it is in line of the world arrogance, i.e. America.

Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria, while Iran has confirmed the right of people in their legitimate demands; but opposed to adventurous interference in the internal affairs of Syria. Iran has called on Syria to accelerate the reform process, so to meet a greater satisfaction of its citizens. Therefore, Tehran believes that it has not ignored the opponents or the people legitimate demands. Iran believes that political reforms will result in a favorable situation in Syria; while anarchy or foreign interference will not bring about any benefit to the people of Syria. In Tehran's view, the current situation in Syria just drags this country to civil war and destruction, not a promising future.

Furthermore, Iran believes that Iran's strategic depth has been extended to the borders of the Israel after 1980th. So, the Lebanese and Syrian borders are virtually the strategic border between Iran and Israel or the US in other terms. In fact, Syria is considered as the front line; Tehran believes that the Iran's so- called enemies know that without breaking the front line, it is not possible to infiltrate to the heartland, i.e. Iran. In Tehran's perception, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas have formed an alliance against Israel, while Syria plays the role of bridge to that front. The US and Israel know very well that, toppling the Syrian regime means destruction of the bridge. If they eliminate Syria, the connection between Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli movements will cut. Therefore, Iran view Syria from this perspective and has been opposed to any foreign military option in Syria. Because any change in the political scene in the region, particularly political system in Syria may weaken the geopolitical depth of Iran. So, for political, ideological and geopolitical reasons, Iran will continue to its current policy toward Syria.

Tehran believes that the Western and its regional allies' utmost strife to weaken the Syrian Bashar Assad's Regime show that the West looks in the same angle as Tehran looks to the developments. The West's ardent opposition to any participation of Iran in any international diplomacy on Syria shows that it is not seeking to reduce violence in Syria, but just to shorten the circle of siege against what Iran calls it “resistance against Zionism”. The Western and its allies in some Arab states, those who exert political pressure on Assad's regime and offer financial support and weapons as well as media coverage to the armed opposition groups have shown that they are not seeking a political solution to the crisis. While Iran believes that conventional methods for legal and political reform in Syria are a natural, only and a reasonable right of the people of Syria.

More By Ali Omidi:

*Is it Morally Legitimate for Israel to Address the Iranian Nuclear Issue?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Is_it_Morally_Legitimate_for_Israel_to_Address_the_Iranian_Nuclear_Issue_.htm

*Strait of Hormuz as Iran’s Trump Card: Legal Foundations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Strait_of_Hormuz_as_Iran%E2%80%99s_Trump_Card_Legal_Foundations.htm

*The Ultra-Importance of Turkish AKP’s Parliamentary Victory for Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Ultra_Importance_of_Turkish_AKP’s_Parliamentary_Victory_for_Iran.htm

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