The world media is abuzz with news about the presidential elections in the United States, the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and the upcoming second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. That being said, the situation in Syria remains very much in the focus of attention of analysts and political scientists.
Recently, against the backcloth of the developments in Syria, media outlets have increasingly been discussing issues pertaining to relations between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).
It is no secret that Iran was the first country to join the civil war in Syria that erupted in 2011. It was Tehran that provided emergency assistance to President Bashar Assad, preventing his overthrow by the opposition forces. What happened next did not unfold in a way Tehran expected though.
By the summer of 2014, The Islamic State terrorist organization (aka IS, ISIS, Daesh – all banned in Russia) had taken control of the eastern part of the country, announcing the creation of a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq with its capital in Raqqa.
In 2015, the Syrian government forces, the military contingent of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), led by General Qasem Soleimani, the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as the pro-Iranian multinational Shiite formations suffered a series of serious setbacks putting in question the very existence of President Assad’s regime
Trying to save the situation, General Soleimani pays two visits to Moscow in late July and early August 2015, to discuss the situation in Syria.
Shortly after, Russia receives an official request for assistance from Damascus, and on September 30, the Russian Aerospace Forces launch military operations against ISIS terrorists, and ultimately crush the terrorist groups in Syria and preserve the country’s sovereign status.
In view of the anti-terrorist forces’ successes in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was now time to withdraw all foreign armed forces from Syria.
“We believe that after the Syrian armed forces’ significant victories in the fight against terrorism, and with the start of a more active phase of the political process there, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” President Putin said when meeting with Bashar Assad in Sochi on May 17, 2018.
Putin’s statement caused a mixed reaction in Tehran, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stating that Iranian forces were in Syria with the official permission of the authorities, and hinted that Tehran was not going to leave the Syrian territory, adding that it was too important for Iran geopolitically.
Russia views Syria as a multinational, multi-confessional, and at the same time a secular state, which maintains friendly relations with Moscow and respects its interests both in that country and in the Middle East as a whole (including the Russian air force base in Khmeimim and the naval station in Tartus.) Equally important for Russia is the fact that Syria has normal relations with its neighbors, primarily Israel and Turkey. With the destruction of the Islamic State organization, Moscow believes that the formation of a “new Syria” can only be ensured by peaceful means through activating the constitutional process that would involve all interested parties, including those opposed to Bashar Assad, whose continued stay in power is not something Russia will necessarily insist on in the future.
Meanwhile, with the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee facing serious hurdles due to the deep divisions among its members, President Assad remains the only symbol of Syrian statehood. Moscow is fully aware of this and despite various views about Bashar Assad’s political future, is making every effort possible to strengthen Syria’s sovereign status. Armed forces subordinate to a legitimate leadership are a very important factor of sovereignty and statehood, and in this sense Russia has done a lot for Syria and its future.
During the five years of its presence in Syria, Russia has been working hard to reorganize, modernize and equip the Syrian army, improving its professional level, restoring the chain of command and combat readiness. Russia also helped with the formation, training and equipment of the 4th and 5th corps of the Syrian army, helped reorganize the “Power of the Tigers” elite unit, which scored numerous victories over the terrorists. This means that by reviving the armed forces subordinate exclusively to the Syrian state, Russia strengthened not the regime of Bashar Assad, but the Syrian statehood.
Iran, for its part, sees Syria as an outpost in its strategic struggle against Israel and “misguided Muslim regimes that have sold themselves out to world Zionism and American imperialism.” Tehran has made huge human and material sacrifices to erect this “fortress,” losing during its the nine-year participation in the Syrian war thousands of its fighters, including 11 generals. In addition, since 2011, Tehran has reportedly spent between $5 billion and $20 billion annually in assistance to Damascus.
Iran is paying such a high price in Syria for a reason, however, since it views the Arab country as a “golden link” – a term proposed by Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader – in a Shiite chain stretching from Iran westward across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea. This chain is also called the “Shiite belt” or “axis of resistance” (apparently to the United States and Israel). As Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the Aerospace Forces of the IRGC, explained very frankly, “all members of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ are united, and we must join together to withdraw the American forces from the region and destroy the Zionist regime … Iran stretches from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and from Ansar Allah in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
For Iran, the loss of Syria would mean a rupture of this “axis of resistance,” the loss of land routes to Lebanon and to its creation, Hezbollah, it would mean the loss of control over the Syrian-Israeli border, a serious loss of credibility among Shiite groups in the Middle East, and, in general, a weakening of Tehran’s positions in the region.
Tehran intensified its activity in Syria following the destruction of the main terrorist forces, working on several tracks.
First, Iran has deployed in Syria the elite units of the Quds Special Forces, which are part of the IRGC and are fighting on the ground. Their officers also act as commanders of Shiite groups , as well as instructors and advisers to pro-Iranian armed formations subordinate to Damascus.
The Iranian-controlled Lebanese Hezbollah is the largest and most combat-ready of the Shiite organizations, boasting significant resources, including its own army, financial structures, and a large network of representative offices in the region. Hezbollah is one of the most powerful actors in the Syrian conflict.
In Syria, the Iranians are establishing their military bases in the most strategic areas and building warehouses with weapons, ammunition and material and technical means.
The IRGC is setting up all kinds of staging posts and warehouses for Hezbollah, which accumulate and store weapons and ammunition, including for further transportation to Lebanon. This is often done close to Russian military installations in order to secure against military strikes by Israel, which is also active in the region against Iranian military units, primarily Hezbollah. Tehran knows that the Israelis will not launch missile and airstrikes on Russian servicemen and thus ensures the security of its facilities.
In its efforts to rebuild the Syrian armed forces, Iran, unlike Russia, is creating parallel non-state military structures not directly subordinate to Damascus, but answering to “pro-Iranian” Syrians or directly to IRGC officers. The Iranians are also trying to establish closest possible contacts with the Syrian army by offering the services of their commanders. The 4th Division is exactly one such formation.
Secondly, Iran is exercising a large-scale economic expansion in Syria, with its representatives actively buying real estate, various industrial enterprises (even those damaged by war), and land.
Deals are made either for Iranians or Syrians, representing Tehran’s interests in Syria – primarily Shiites and, to a lesser extent, Alawites. For example, in the capital Damascus, one can see a lot of advertisements and shop signs in Persian (Farsi). Iran is most actively expanding its presence in many of Syria’s economic sectors.
Thirdly, this is certainly an ideological expansion. The Iranians are actively promoting Shia principles among the Syrian population. Converting Sunnis to Shiites may not be easy, but in principle, it is possible. Before the events of 2010-2011, Syria was not a very religious country. Therefore, Syrians without any clear religious affiliation are the primary objects of Shiite proselytizing. Moreover, the Iranians are actively handing out various economic and financial privileges to many Syrian demographics, above all Alawites and Shiites, in the form of humanitarian aid, and carry out large-scale propaganda and PR work, and with good results too.
The Iranians enjoy strong positions in the highest echelons of the country’s military-political establishment, including members of President Assad’s inner circle and his security services. A prominent role here is played by Assad’s younger brother, Maher, a pro-Iranian politician, who commands many in Syria’s security forces.
As for Turkey, Sunni Arab countries, the United States and Israel, they are all wary of Tehran’s policy towards Syria.
Iran and its satellites see Israel as their main adversary in the region. For Russia, Israel is a reliable partner with the two countries having shared views on many aspects of the Syrian problem. So, shortly before the start of the Russian aerial campaign in Syria (September 30, 2015), Russia and Israel set up a special coordination center to ensure interaction between their militaries in this region.
Russia and Israel maintain close political and economic ties, including permanent contacts at the very top, interaction in the war on terror, in the field of security and intelligence, in the military-technical sphere and in space exploration. In 2019, Russia’s trade with the Jewish State stood at $2.25 billion, while with Iran – only $ 1.59 billion. Incidentally, Israel has a population of just 9.1 million, compared to 83.1 million in Iran.
Humanitarian ties between Russians and Israelis are also developing fast. And with good reason too, since there are around one million Jews currently living in Russia, while in Israel, Russian-speakers (immigrants from the former Soviet Union), according to various estimates, account for between 15 percent to 25 percent of the country’s 9.1-million-strong population. The countries also have a visa-free regime.
For several years now, Israeli warplanes have been striking Iranian and Hezbollah installations in Syria about once a week. When this happens, Russian air defenses do not fire at Israeli combat aircraft because Moscow wants to avoid an escalation of the conflict.
Russia is contributing heavily to the reduction of tensions between Israel on the one side and Iran and its satellites on the other. In September, Lebanese Hezbollah units were said to be leaving Syria in what observers said was the result of tacit agreements between Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Ankara. There were objective reasons – mainly the tense political situation in Lebanon – that necessitated Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria, of course, but there is no denying Russia’s positive role in this.
Moscow also negotiated with Damascus and Tehran the withdrawal of pro-Iranian militias and armed units from southern Syria from the border with Israel and their replacement with pro-Russian units. In practice, this never happened though.
The Iranians and their supporters regard their presence in southern Syria near the Israeli border as a strategic asset in their standoff with the Jewish State since the Syrian-Israeli border is a very important psychological barrier in the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.
Even though there is no serious confrontation between Moscow and Tehran in Syria, of course, the past few years have seen occasional clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Iranian security forces there. However, this certainly can’t lead to a direct regional confrontation between Russia and Iran.
Many factors of Iran’s presence in Syria raise a lot of questions. This is clearly demonstrated by the interview that the former head of the Russian Reconciliation Center (2016), retired Lieutenant General Sergei Chvarkov, gave to RIA Novosti.
“In August 2018, Damascus and Tehran signed an agreement on military cooperation, which provides for Iran’s assistance in rebuilding the Syrian defense industry and the country’s infrastructure,” Sergei Chvarkov pointed out. “When implemented, the agreement can, on the one hand, strengthen the Iranians’ positions in Syria and further Assad regime’s dependence on Tehran. On the other hand, Iranian financing of Shiite groups and attempts to spread Shiism in originally Sunni territories can stoke up tensions with the Sunnis and Kurds inside Syria. Any further large-scale Iranian penetration into Syria will create a number of serious obstacles to the advancement of reforms and the development of the political process in Syria, and complicate relations with Israel, the United States, Turkey and the Sunni Arab countries. This will complicate the task of finding alternative foreign sources for rebuilding the country, since the efforts by Iran and Russia will clearly not be enough.”
Here we will interrupt General Chvarkov and recall the words of President Assad, who said that the restoration of the infrastructure of the Syrian Arab Republic would cost around $400 billion, which, according to his estimates, will take from 10 to 15 years. Experts put the cost of rebuilding the country at $1.2 trillion. A colossal amount of money that will prove hard to line up even by joint efforts of many countries.
“And the lack of funds will prevent achieving any visible success in restoring the country’s infrastructure, moving forward the political process, bringing back the refugees and reforming the army and special services,” General Chvarkov continues. “Moreover, the expansion of Iran’s influence in Syria will rule out the lifting of the US-imposed sanctions and prevent the supply of modern technologies and equipment needed to restore the economy and virtually all other spheres of state activity in Syria.”
Talking about the future, experts on Syria and Iran argue that Tehran is unlikely to exit Syria anytime soon. As General Chvarkov emphasized, “the fact that Iran has come to Syria to stay is evidenced by the treaties that have recently been signed between Syria and Iran.
Well, Iran could possibly withdraw from Syria in case of a serious deterioration in the socio-economic situation back home. Tehran could indeed pull out some of its units – primarily Shiite ones, but in any case, Iran’s political, military, economic and ideological influence in Syria will not go anywhere.
From our partner International Affairs
The challenges lie ahead Ankara’s decision to normalize relations with Cairo and Damascus
Although Egypt and Syria are at the bottom of the list of states with which Turkey intends to reconcile, the 10-year conflict with the two mentioned countries, which is accompanied by conflict and bloodshed in Syria, is on the verge of ending, and Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Syria are returning to normal.
Of course, the recent progress is due to the efforts of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey; Especially after the negotiators failed to close the last case of incompatibility between the two sides. The process of reconciliation began in 2021, in the city of Al-Ala in Saudi Arabia, and since then, Cairo and Ankara continued to strive and innovate in order to achieve reconciliation and compromise, and finally achieved positive and significant results.
However, the reconciliation between the two states was not at the leadership level; Until Qatar provided the ground for the meeting of Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Doha during the opening ceremony of the World Cup. The sitting of the Secretary General of the United Nations between the presidents of the two countries was not aimed at keeping them away from each other, and it seems that the Egyptians and the Turks had prepared for this occasion a few weeks ago, and the opening ceremony of the World Cup was held as a tribute to the mediation of Qatar, as the appointment was selected.
Regardless of political compliments, the reconciliation of Egypt and Turkey is very important; Because the continuation of tension between the two countries can lead to many risky developments. Relations between Egypt and Turkey became strained after the overthrow of the government of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. At that time, it became clear to political observers that this inconsistency will last for a long time and will not end soon; Especially since the late president of Egypt tried to run his country with the mentality of a one party rule. For this reason, the solidarity of the angry protesters with the security institutions played a central role in changing the situation in this state and marked the end of the Muslim Brotherhood government. Then, the Muslim Brotherhood made Istanbul its alternative capital and began its plans and efforts to return to power from there. This caused a crisis in the relations between Egypt and Turkey, and with the passage of time, the incompatibility between the two states increased.
However, in the past year and a half, the governments of Turkey and Egypt have held several meetings in order to resolve the dispute and end the disputed cases, and they were able to achieve significant successes in terms of security and media. Ankara more or less stopped the activity of the Egyptian opposition in Turkish territory, but the reconciliation between the two sides was not complete and the disagreement over how to manage the Libyan war crisis and the dispute over territorial waters in the Mediterranean remained unresolved.
In the case of Libya, Turkey supports one side of the conflict and Egypt supports the other side. Libya plays a vital role for Egypt in terms of security, and it is an important market for Turkey in terms of economy. In addition, Libya has many debts to pay to Turkey since the Gaddafi government.
On the other hand, after the discovery of gas fields in the Mediterranean waters, which are believed to contain a large amount of energy, there was a dispute between Egypt, Turkey and Greece over territorial waters in the Mediterranean, and the aforementioned states have not been able to find a solution to overcome this challenge.
The issue of ending the tension between Egypt and Turkey is very important, because achieving this goal may help end the war in Libya, and this in itself is reason enough to be optimistic about the current efforts for reconciliation between the two states. However, the price of this reconciliation will be paid by the opposition affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood outside of Egypt.
Of course, the path of reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara is extremely chaotic and risky. It is so difficult to reach the stage of reconciliation between the two states that, according to Erdogan, if he himself goes to Damascus, he will not be able to find a quick solution to end this complex crisis. Turkey and Syria have been fighting indirectly for more than 10 years. In addition, several military powers, including the forces of the Islamic Republic, Russia, the United States, foreign militias, the remnants of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the separatist Kurds of Turkey, and the Syrian armed opposition continue to invade Syria.
Meanwhile, the inability of Damascus to control parts of the Syrian territory has created a power vacuum in different parts of the country. Millions of Syrian refugees live abroad; In addition, millions of other citizens who have been forced to leave their homes have sought refuge in areas far from the war and are still displaced.
Therefore, any solution that is presented to end the crisis should consider the above points. Currently, all sides want the war in Syria to end, but the path to achieving this goal remains elusive.
Protest emerges as a mixed blessing for World Cup host Qatar
Protest on the soccer pitch has proven to be a mixed blessing for World Cup host Qatar, exposing double standards in the Gulf state’s position as well as that of its critics.
Qatar embraced protest when it supported Qatari policies, such as the Gulf state’s increasingly assertive denunciation of double standards in Western criticism of discrimination against LGBT people or its refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in the absence of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, protesters and foreign media quickly encountered the limits of Qatari tolerance and notions of freedom of expression when they touched on politically sensitive issues, ranging from support for LGBT rights to solidarity with demonstrators in Iran, who have defied a brutal crackdown by security forces in more than two months of anti-government manifestations.
As a result, the debate on double standards at times amounted to the kettle calling the pot black.
That is not to question the legitimacy of criticism levelled by Qatar and its critics at each other. However, it is to note that both parties’ credibility is in question because of their inconsistencies and failures to put their own houses in order.
“On one level, the World Cup is unfolding smoothly. On another, we go from crisis to crisis,” said a journalist covering the tournament for a major Western news organisation.
Photographers were often on the frontline as Qatari authorities stopped them from snapping pictures of security forces preventing fans from wearing clothing to matches or taking into stadiums paraphernalia that signalled support for Iranian protesters or LGBT rights.
‘The real test case will be when the United States plays Iran. That could be the crescendo in the clash over what protesters and media can and cannot do,” said another journalist.
The November 29 match is likely the World Cup’s most politically charged game, with talks to revive the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme all but dead and Iraq-mediated negotiations with archrival Saudi Arabia suspended.
Iran accuses the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel of inciting the sustained anti-government protests.
The US Soccer Federation joined the fray with Iran ahead of the two nations’ World Cup match when it briefly displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, saying the move was in support of protesters in Iran.
Iran accused the federation of removing the name of God from their national flag and said it would complain to FIFA. However, US Soccer later restored the Islamic republic’s flag on social media.
Meanwhile, Qatari nationals, intending to protest against Western double standards in criticism of the Gulf state, didn’t encounter problems entering the stadium to watch Germany’s group stage match against Spain.
During the game, Qataris displayed pictures of former German national team player Mesut Özil, a German-born descendant of Turkish immigrants, while covering their mouths in protest against German double standards.
Mr. Özil quit the German team after becoming a target of racist abuse and a scapegoat for Germany’s early World Cup exit in 2018.
The Qatari demonstration was in response to Germany’s team covering their mouths at a group photo in advance of an earlier match against Japan in protest against FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s banning players from wearing One Love bands during games.
In the same vein, prominent Qataris wore pro-Palestinian armbands to the Germany Japan match to counter the pro-LGBT One Love band sported by German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser during the game.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, signalled the Gulf state’s greater assertiveness in countering criticism when he lamented some three weeks before the kickoff of the World Cup that Qatar had been “subjected to an unprecedented campaign,” scrutiny, and scorn “that no host country has faced.”
In an indication that human rights, labour, and LGBT groups may be losing leverage, the emir said that “we initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered some of criticism as positive and useful… (But) it soon became clear that the campaign tends to continue and expand to include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question real reasons and motives behind this campaign.”
The critics’ problem is their past failure to tackle with equal ferocity issues of human rights, prejudice, and bigotry in the run-up to the 2018 Russian World Cup, as well as to separate the wheat from the chafe by distancing themselves from criticism of Qatar that was laced with bias and racism.
In doing so, critics are as much their own worst enemy as they have been drivers of social change in Qatar.
By allowing Qatar to deflect criticism by calling into question critics’ credibility, activists have enabled the Gulf state to take its counteroffensive to the next level.
A week into the World Cup, Qatar was reviewing, according to the Financial Times, its substantial investments in London after the city’s transport authority suspended advertising from the Gulf state because of the controversies over worker and LGBT rights.
Qatari investments include London’s landmark Harrods department store; The Shard, an iconic 72-storey skyscraper; and Canary Wharf, part of the city’s central business district. Qatar also owns Chelsea Barracks, the Savoy and Grosvenor House hotels, 22 per cent of Sainsbury’s supermarkets, six per cent of Barclays bank, and 20 per cent of Heathrow airport.
“Countries like…Qatar…view their investments as strategic bribes to mute criticism and resist reforms,” said Radha Stirling, a London-based lawyer who represents expatriates in the Gulf who run into legal difficult
To be fair, Qatar was one of 11 countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia that were banned in 2019 from advertising by Transport for London on the grounds of human rights violations. Nevertheless, the agency allowed some Qatari advertising promoting the Gulf state as a tourist destination until last week’s World Cup kickoff, when it decided to implement the ban fully.
Even so, the list reinforced the notion of double standards by failing to include China at the height of its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang; Russia that was annexing Ukrainian territory, repressing LGBT people, and attempting to assassinate its critics at home and abroad; and Israel with its increasingly racial policies towards Palestinians.
Qatar is likely to be the first of numerous rights-focussed Middle Eastern battlegrounds, with countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt hosting or preparing bids to host multiple major sporting events, including Asian Cup competitions, the 2030 World Cup, and the 2036 Summer Olympics.
The bids constitute a rich and legitimate hunting ground for human, worker, and LBGT rights activists. However, their effectiveness will, to a significant extent, depend on their ability to put their own house in order.
Iran on the Threshold of Another Syrianization
In the last few years, a new word has been added to the political vocabulary “Syrianization”. This new word means turning a country into a land without a government, in the common sense of a burnt, lawless land, every part of which is under the control of an armed mafia group.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic, who are now shaken by the mass movement of the Iranian people, are warning to save themselves that Iran may also be destroyed. In other words, our choice is limited to living or half-living under the rule of jurisprudential tyranny or falling into the second Syria.
How did Syria become Syrian? In the beginning, nearly 12 years ago, a group of Syrian youths came to the street in Daraa city to protest the continued suffocation, the spread of unemployment and the darkness of their life horizons. This demonstration was completely peaceful. The protesters didn’t set fire to anything and didn’t shout any incendiary slogans. If Syria had a government in the conventional sense that day, the wise way to respond to these protests would be to send a delegation from the central government in Damascus to listen to the protesters and find ways to fulfill at least part of their demands.
But the government of Bashar al-Assad, the president, was not a normal government. This was a government monopolized by a military-security-commercial minority, which itself was a minority within the framework of the Nasiri religious minority, which is also a minority in Shia Gholat, which is also a minority in the Islamic religion. Thus, accepting the Daraa protesters as equal citizens was not acceptable for the minority in question. In the political sphere of Assad and his Baath Arab Socialist Party, the government commands and the people, who are degraded to the level of subjects, obey. In this world, the answer to protest is bullets or prison.
However, the bloodbath that occurred in the valley did not end the protests. Within a few days, the Syrian people’s movement reached Hama, Aleppo, Sweida and Damascus. This time, some prominent figures of the Baathist regime demanded a political response to the protests in secret meetings with the regime leaders. But a regime that knows nothing but lies and repression could not take advantage of the tools offered by politics to solve society’s problems and get out of crises.
At a critical stage in 2012, Bashar al-Assad thought to save the entire Baathist regime by leaving the scene. The mood of those days was described by Brigadier General Hossein Hamdani, one of the officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran who was sent to Syria, in a long conversation, a year before his death in Syria. According to Hamdani, they packed their bags to leave in Damascus because at that time a part of the Syrian army had broken away from the Assad regime and hoped to conquer the capital by establishing the “Free Syrian Army”.
Although it can be said that Hamedani has exaggerated the importance of Tehran’s involvement, there is no doubt that the message of the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Bashar al-Assad was not ineffective in changing the opinion of the dictator of Damascus to leave the scene. Khamenei’s message was simple: stay and resist! We give whatever you want!
In the decade since that day, the Islamic Republic has spent more than 20 billion dollars in Syria, according to experts’ estimates. Tehran has also created several military units to fight against the Syrian people and for the benefit of Bashar al-Assad: the Fatemiyoun Brigade, the Zainbiyoun Brigade, and the units of the Morteza Ali movement belong to this category. Along with them, units from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, another branch of Khamenei’s proxy forces, have also fought in Syria. Iranian “volunteers”, who are called “defenders of the shrine”, have also been and are present alongside Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi mercenaries.
To add to the chaos in the country, Assad released more than 20,000 imprisoned Islamic “terrorists” to open a new front against the freedom-loving protesters. It was these freed terrorists who quickly participated in the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). At the same time, Assad promised the more than 1.5 million Kurds who had lost their Syrian citizenship that he would restore full citizenship to them. In this way, a part of the Syrian Kurds under the influence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose main base is in Turkey, entered the battle against the Syrian freedom groups.
But all these measures were unsuccessful in suppressing the Syrian people’s movement. In 2014, Tehran made contacts with Russia to push Vladimir Putin into war in Syria. These calls came to fruition and Putin assigned the Russian Air Force to suppress in Syria. The price of this service to Bashar al-Assad was a 45-year contract according to which Russia obtained an air-sea base on the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean and was able to expand its military presence to that strategic sea for the first time after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Putin used the same tactic in Syria that he used in Chechnya: bombing cities across the country. Thus, Aleppo, the second most populated city in Syria, like Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, became a mountain of rubble.
Gradually, “Syrianization” was formed as a political-historical concept. Destruction means widespread devastation in a country where half of its population has either become displaced and refugees or has become homeless within its own land. “Syrianization” means maintaining control of a part of the capital and fighting with dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of other armed groups across the country to formally recognize a regime that no longer exists. “Syrianization” also has another meaning: the division of two facts of a country into the sphere of influence of several foreign powers. Right now, part of Syria is controlled by Turkey, while the other part is controlled by the United States under the guise of its Kurdish allies. A third part is controlled by Russia and the Islamic Republic has the fourth part in the desert bordering Iraq. The fifth sector is also dominated by Druze armed forces with the help of Jordan Hashemi. Bashar al-Assad and what he calls himself the Syrian government are displaying their shadow legitimacy in a sixth section in Damascus.
Thus, the joint plan of Bashar Assad, the Baath Party, part of the Nasiri (Alawi) minority, Ayatollah Khamenei, Major General Qassem Soleimani, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are being destroyed. But another actor has played a role in this ominous show: the leadership of the Syrian people’s protest movement. This leadership was never able to present a clear strategy to gain power. This leadership lured the Western powers with mouth-watering promises and thought it was done taking pictures with the French president and receiving a message from the US secretary of state – endless seminars in more than 30 capitals, from Tokyo to Ottawa, where the real political work is done and took the cities and villages of Syria. A group of exiled figures who had been around Syria for years suddenly came under the global spotlight as the future leaders of Syria. Their work was consecutive interviews with Western media, often in suites of 5-star hotels in Paris, London, New York, etc. It is interesting here that many of the leaders of the Baathist regime, who were cut off from Bashar al-Assad, joined this shaved leadership in order to compensate for their lost political virginity and to take a share if there is a reconciliation.
“Syrianization” should be considered a new type of tragedy-comedy of human societies in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of idealistic, sincere and selfless people come to the field to overthrow an autocratic, and corrupt system, hoping to build a free and law-based society and justice. But, in the end, they are reduced to the level of a tool for the profit of the alleged leaders on the one hand and the battle of foreign powers on the other.
“Syrianization” could not have become a reality without Bashar al-Assad, Ali Khamenei, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and the ignorant or profit-seeking leaders of the popular movement. Today, Syria, this stateless land, is a breeding ground for the worst elements that threaten a modern society: various terrorists, looters, commercial and religious mafias and mercenaries. To rebuild this ruined country, more than three trillion dollars of capital is needed, a capital that will never be collected without the establishment of a government in its normal sense. In this way, Syria is faced with the question “came first the chicken or the egg”: capital comes first or the normal government?
Let’s go back to the propaganda of Khamenei and his accomplices about the “Syrianization” of Iran. At first glance, the presence of some agents of Syrianization, including Khamenei himself and his mentor, Putin, a part of the Revolutionary Guards and mercenaries of the Islamic Republic in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, makes the danger of Syrianizing Iran appear serious.
But several important factors, I think, protect Iran against the risk of becoming Syrian. The first factor is the deep roots of Iran as a nation. Before 1948, Syria never existed as an independent nation-state and was always a collection of ethnic, geographical and cultural entities within the framework of various empires from Chaldea and Assyria to Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman and finally, France. On the other hand, Iran has passed through the crucibles of the constitutional movement and has become familiar with the concept of freedom within the framework of the law during 150 years, although intermittently, before Ayatollah Khomeini took office. The role of the institution of the Kingdom of Iran in strengthening the national solidarity of Iranians cannot be ignored either.
Most importantly, the current movement of the Iranian people, unlike the protest movement of the Syrian people, which had a religious undertone – with the strong presence of the “Muslim Brotherhood” – does not have a religious or sectarian aspect, and is a movement that goes beyond religious, professional and ethnic concepts and demands a return to the path of constitutionalism. It means creating a society based on the law and serving the citizens. In recent months, the field leaders of this movement have displayed an encouraging maturity and political tact and have shown that, unlike the Syrian protesters, they are not waiting for a “green light” from Paris, London and Washington. Thus, those who want to help this movement must enter into the game with the conditions and regulations of this movement, not to impose their own conditions and regulations on it.
Today, Iran seeks to end the rule of Syria builders like Khamenei. Those who have played a role in Syrianizing Syria cannot scare us from becoming Syrian.
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Vijay Gokhale, The Long Game: How The Chinese Negotiate With India ( Penguin Vintage , 2021) Multiple divergences have shaped...
Explainer: African Leaders Should Accelerate Industrialization Without Short-Haircut Processes
At the end of their four-day deliberations, African leaders and participants have issued a joint statement relating to the future...
A review of popular unrest in China in light of the ongoing anti-lockdown protests
Late 1970s saw the Chinese people standing up to exercise their right to dissent for the first time since the...
Internet of Military Things (IoMT) and the Future of Warfare
The Internet of Military Things (IoMT) is a class of heterogeneously connected devices employed for future warfare. It has wide...
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