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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Foreign AffairsAfter his recent movements and statements... Khamenei's "reminders and instructions" to Assad

After his recent movements and statements… Khamenei’s “reminders and instructions” to Assad

Although Assad is Iran's "most prominent ally" in the region, he was the last to join the ranks of mourners over the killing of the Iranian president

– Published on:

The speech given by the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, during his meeting with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, carries “messages and directives,” and, according to experts and observers who told our Arab Desk, paints a clear picture of the shape of the current and future relationship that brings together the “two allies.”

Although Assad is Iran’s “most prominent ally” in the region, he was the last one to join the mourners for the killing of the Iranian President, Ibrahim Raisi, in his helicopter crash on May 19, along with 7 other people, including the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian.

His official media did not publish the exact content of his meeting with Khamenei on Thursday, contrary to what was reported on the official website of the Iranian Supreme Leader, and what was later spread in a series of striking tweets on his official accounts on the “X” social networking site.

In one of his tweets, Khamenei accused “the West and its followers in the region of seeking to overthrow the political regime in Syria and remove it from the region’s equations by igniting war,” and he corrected by saying that they “did not succeed” in the past, he returned to draw the same scene again at the present time.

He added: “Now they also aim to remove Syria from regional equations by other means, including promises that they will never keep.”

While the Iranian Supreme Leader’s speech did not clarify the nature of the “regional role” played by Syria or the “promises,” he emphasized in a series of subsequent tweets “the resistance identity that characterizes Syria,” and that it “should be preserved.”

Between war and normalization

Al-Assad’s last visit to Iran dates back to May 2022, and he visited it before that in 2019.

After 2022, many changes occurred in the region, including Arab countries restoring their relations with the Assad regime, in a major shift from what their policy had been when the peaceful movement turned into armed in the country.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese, labeled Israel’s military aggression in Gaza as genocide, citing over 30,000 Palestinian deaths, including more than 13,000 children, and 71,000 injuries. She urged immediate sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel. Israel rejected the findings, maintaining its conflict is with Hamas, not civilians. Gulf and African nations supported Albanese’s report, while the US, Israel’s ally, abstained from the session.

The regime in Syria had followed a policy of “distancing itself” from the ongoing Israeli invasion of Gaza until now, and its behavior since October 7 appeared to be “not interested in getting involved,” according to observers.

In return, he showed flexibility and played on many details regarding the path of Arab normalization, which is now going in two directions, declared: based on the “step for step” approach, and undeclared and related to the nature of the relationship between Damascus and Tehran and the extent of the ability to achieve any breach at the level of “entrenched twinship.” “.

Iranian affairs researcher, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Bazi, believes that “Khamenei was very frank” after his meeting with Assad.

He told the Arab Desk website that his speech was directed to the president of the regime, after his statements a while ago about communication with the United States of America, “but to no avail or results.”

Khamenei wanted to remind Assad that “Iran has a similar experience with negotiating with the Americans, but they quickly broke the covenant and agreements,” referring to the nuclear agreement with Iran, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew.

He added, “The Iranian Supreme Leader’s assertion of Syria’s resistance identity, according to his description, attempted to remind Assad that the Syrian alignment historically was within the so-called axis of resistance.”

On the other hand, Al-Bazi believes that Al-Assad “understood the Iranian messages, as his assertion that the relations between Iran and Syria were strategic came to confirm that the type of relations between them had not changed.”

A hard-line hawkish approach

During his meeting with Khamenei on Thursday, Al-Assad addressed the Iranian Supreme Leader with a speech in which he said, according to the latter’s official website: “Iranian-Syrian relations are strategic and are progressing and proceeding under the directives of Your Excellency and Your Excellency.”

The Syrian regime’s media did not mention that phrase.

The statements published by SANA were limited to offering condolences and emphasizing “the necessity of continuing to strengthen bilateral relations in various fields, especially economic ones.”

In the view of Aaron Lund, an expert on Syrian affairs at the Century Foundation, Khamenei’s comments about broken promises seem “to a large extent accurate.”

His talk with the Arab Desk explains that the Iranian leader meant that “even if Assad committed to Gulf and Western interests to a greater degree, there would not be a flood of aid and investments in return.”

Aid funding is decreasing across the board, and even anti-Assad areas in Syria are now seeing a decline in their humanitarian support, according to researcher Lund.

Amer Al-Sabaila, a Jordanian university professor and geopolitical analyst, believes that Assad’s visit and Khamenei’s speech carry a message saying: “If the idea of ​​political subjugation that has been prevalent over the past two years does not result, the Iranian will remain committed to the hard-line hawkish approach in dealing with the West.”

The same approach also applies to Syria and its relations with the surrounding region.

Al-Sabaila points out to the Arab Desk that Iran “cannot provide benefit to the Syrian regime at the Arab or international level, because it is already isolated.”

Although the Syrian side recently promoted the idea of ​​“Arab peace” on the basis that it is “a path to reaching an international solution,” it did not present or take any practical steps, and this also became clear later from the positions of some Arab countries, according to Al-Sabaila.

Within the Iranian circle

Tehran is considered one of the most prominent allies of the Syrian regime, along with Russia, and over the past years it has provided it with military, political, and economic support.

Until now, it is not known what the relationship will be between them in light of the Arab normalization taking place, the last stage of which was the appointment of Saudi Arabia as its ambassador to Damascus, and the announcement of its readiness to operate 3 direct flights with the government of the Syrian regime.

Ahmed Al-Qirbi, a researcher at the Syrian Dialogue Center, believes that what Khamenei said comes within the framework of “talking about differences between the Assad regime and Iran in light of Arab openness.”

On the other hand, it is linked to the position of the Syrian regime regarding the genocide, ethnic cleansing, and killing of civilians including children and women in Gaza, and reports that the latter does not allow Iran and Hezbollah to use Syrian territory to carry out attacks against Israel.

The researcher also believes in his interview with the Arab Desk that “the Iranian leader’s talk (about removing Syria from the regional equation and making promises without implementation) gives hints towards the Arab countries and the regime that Iran will not accept the path of normalization if it deviates from the circle that it has drawn itself.”

Looking at the path of Arab normalization with Assad, Al-Qirbi points out that he witnessed a major revival in the wake of Saudi normalization with Iran.

On the basis of this, he adds that it is not possible to separate what happened between Saudi Arabia and Damascus from what happened between Riyadh and Tehran.

He continues that, based on reality, “Arab normalization with the Assad regime has not yet crossed Iranian red lines.”

Among these lines are: restricting Iran in southern Syria, stopping the manufacture and smuggling of Captagon pills, and reducing Iranian influence in the east of the country.

A dual Iranian perspective

Meanwhile, researcher Al-Bazi explains that Iran is monitoring the course of Arab normalization with Syria intensively and cautiously and is dealing with it with a “double perspective.”

He says that it is cautious and fears that normalization will lead Syria to change its alliances or change its strategic positions.

Normalization efforts, especially those led by some Gulf states, may be affected by Western agendas that aim to reduce Iran’s influence in the region.

Despite this, “this censorship remains never public,” according to a researcher specializing in Iranian affairs.

He adds, on the other hand, that Iran views the Arab rapprochement with Assad positively, as he works to rebuild Syria (according to their vision) and provide it with political stability.

The above is in Tehran’s interest, “because Syria is an important and strategic link for Tehran between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine,” according to the Tehran-based researcher.

Aaron Lund, an expert on Syrian affairs at the Century Foundation, does not believe that Assad has any intention of distancing himself from Iran, and explains that the latter “is his closest ally, besides Russia, and is even closer than Russia, in some respects.”

The Iranian government appears to have mixed feelings about Syria’s renewed relations with the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries, as Lund believes and agrees with Al-Bazi.

He explains that the normalization process supports Iran on the one hand, “because it wants Syria to be stable and to recover economically.”

But on the other hand, there is the fact that “these (Arab) countries are competitors of Iran,” and thus may put pressure on the Syrian regime to withhold some forms of support for Iran and its allies.

However, Lund believes that “in any rational calculation of Tehran’s interests, support for the Assad regime would be more important than any marginal support that Syria could provide to Iran in regional politics.”

He points out that “rescuing Assad has been a huge task for Iran over the past decade or so, and coordination with Syria is very close on many issues.”

While their interests sometimes differ somewhat, researcher Lund believes that “this is not something that would worry Khamenei too much, especially since some occasional friction is normal in any such relationship.”

The price will be high

The outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 represented an opportunity for Iran to increase its influence in Syria.

This was driven by the country’s strategic importance and location, and its role in ensuring the continuity of the land corridor from Tehran to Beirut, and its access to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, according to what several reports by Western media and research centers indicate.

Statistics are rarely published showing what Iran has done in Syria.

However, MP Heshmatullah Falahatpisheh, from the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in a remarkable statement in 2020 that his country spent between 20 and 30 billion dollars in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad.

The researcher Al-Bazi believes that “Al-Assad realizes that Western and Arab initiatives, despite their importance, come with a very expensive price, which is the surrender of some sovereign powers.”

Therefore, “the historically rooted relationship with Iran is of great importance to him.”

The researcher continues, “Iran does not impose on Assad any political changes or radical transformations that he does not want. That is why it is not easy for him to abandon it so easily, especially since the relationship between them falls within the strategic alliance.”

This alliance is based “on history, a common threat, and common benefits, and all of these factors have not changed during this period,” according to the researcher.

In addition to the above, he explains that “Iran exercises influence with multiple dimensions that are not limited to the official nature in Syria. It exercises influence among the clans in eastern Syria and influence in the Aleppo regions by providing services and influence also in the Syrian coastal region.”

It is not an easy matter for Assad to distance himself from Iran, according to the Jordanian researcher, Amer Al-Sabaila, and therefore, based on the radicalization taking place in the country, “he is forced to reassure Tehran on the one hand and follow the Arab path on the other hand.”

Al-Sabaila adds that the Assad regime “knows that Iran cannot bring Syria out of isolation,” and that it is “an ongoing crisis in itself,” which forces it “to find a state of diplomatic balance at the present time.”

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Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa
Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa
Editor-in-chief, The Eastern Herald. Counter terrorism, diplomacy, Middle East affairs, Russian affairs and International policy expert.

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