Bashar Assad
Bashar Assad. Photo by AP
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Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel watch the launch of a Zelzal missile during maneuvers by the city of Qom, Iran. June 28, 2011. Photo by AP

The main reason behind Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad is to prevent the collapse of the rejectionist front against Israel, a senior aide to the Islamic Republic's Supreme Religious Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a television interview that was broadcast on Sunday.

"If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, the line of resistance in the face of Israelwill be broken," Ali Akbar Velayati told the Arab satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, which is operated by former Al Jazeera reporter Ghassan Ben Jeddo. Velayati referenced the declaration by one of the leaders of the Syrian opposition, Prof. Burhan Ghalioun, according to which the opposition would establish relations with Israel and the United States and drop its ties with Iran and Hezbollah, as justification for Iran's concerns.

Velayati also stressed that Tehran supports reforms in Syria, “but without resorting to violence and obtaining assistance from America," he said. He added that the problem was that a number of “reactionary” states such as Qatar are providing arms to fighters coming to Syria from Somalia and from Afghanistan in order to carry out massacres against Syrian soldiers and the Syrian people and to overthrow Assad.

Velayati also rapped Islamist organizations operating in Syria, which he said believe they can topple the Syrian regime with the help of assistance from the United States, Israel, Qatar and Al-Qaida, and installing a figure like Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi in its place.

But Velayati's unmitigated support for Assad, combined with what he describes as Iran's belief in “reforms emanating from the will of the Syrian people” also hint at an Iranian willingness to hold talks with the Syrian opposition, on condition that Tehran's interests in Syria and Lebanon are protected and its special relationship in the region does not give way to Qatari, Saudi or American influence.

In related news, Iran announced its extension of a $1 billion line of credit to the Syrian regime. In addition, Arab sources report that advisers from Iran's Revolutionary Guards continue to operate in Syria alongside Syrian army units, in a bid to formulate a new military strategy against rebel forces.

Assad told the Iranian Nasim news agency that his regime was conducting a struggle against international and Arab forces. “In Syria it is neither a revolution nor an Arab Spring, but rather a battle against those who want to destroy the state,” Assad said, adding that he believed the Syria regime would win the war but that no one should expect it to end within hours, days or weeks.

Internal dispute delays formation of government in exile

The Syrian political opposition, meanwhile, is apparently locked in a prolonged internal dispute. Its leaders, meeting in Istanbul, are finding it difficult to reach agreement on the establishment of a transitional government in exile that could win international recognition. A decision to that effect had been expected over the weekend, but disagreement over its authority and, more importantly, failure to agree on a transitional prime minister, led to an announcement on Monday that the decision is to be delayed for at least 10 days.

The Syrian National Coalition, the majority of whose 70 members represent Islamist organizations, enjoys international support and recognition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, but until it can establish a provisional government authorized to pass resolutions and invite outside intervention, allies cannot easily provide official support openly.

The first order of the day for any provisional government that is created will be to secure the immediate recognition of Western and Arab states, thereby guaranteeing the authority of its decisions. But so far the commanders of the opposition forces in Syria have not given the okay to the formation of such a government. In the face of opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes the most important and well organized component of the opposition, 10 days may not be enough.

According to figures in the Syrian opposition living in France, in the absence of a consensus on the establishment of a government in exile and of genuine cooperation between military and political opposition groups, the SNC will have a hard time getting the funding it needs not only for aid to fighters and refugees, but also for its very existence.