In Syria Crisis, Iran Seeks Regional Power Even if It Means Losing Assad

In the face of Western and Arab helplessness, Iran may become the country that will solve the Syria crisis, and tie the ends of its golden belt that is slowly unraveling.

Iran and the United States are waging battle over the future of the Middle East. This, according to Mohsen Rezaei, the man who was the Chief Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, a candidate for president in the previous Iranian elections and is likely to run in the upcoming elections which are set to take place in June 2013. Rezaei, who was quoted in Iran’s Mehr news agency, gave an extensive strategic explanation: “Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan constitute a golden belt in the Middle East. The United States seeks to use all means to become the decision-maker in this golden belt.

Should Syria remain independent, and not fall to the hands of the Americans and the Western occupiers, there will be an Islamic awakening in the region which will turn toward Islam. But should these countries fall into the hands of the Americans, the Islamic awakening will turn into an American movement.
In using the phrase “Islamic awakening,” Rezaei was referring to the “Arab Spring,” a term that Iran rejects, as it presents the Arab revolutions as a democratic awakening, rather than Islamic ones. The Arab nature of the Syrian uprising does not allow Iran to stake its claim as an Islamic one.

Rezaei’s statements are the first public expression regarding Iran’s strategy, not only in regards to the significance of the struggle over Syria, but also and especially over its image as a regional superpower that must contend with the United States over Middle Eastern hegemony. If until now Iran has stuck with its public stance, according to which it is not directly involved in the Syrian conflict and at most it supports the Assad regime, Rezaei’s statement comes in order to clarify Iran’s position over the Syria question does not depend on any personal commitment to Bashar Assad. Syria’s significance, in the eyes of Iran, is much greater, and like Russia, it sees the control and influence over Syria as part of a global struggle.

It is interesting to discern that Turkey does not appear in the same “golden belt” that is meant as a new strategic alignment. Iran estimated that after the crisis with Israel, along with the unusual economic cooperation between the two countries, Iran will be able to yield its influence over Turkey, thus creating an impressive security belt that will allow it to handle American and Western influence. This belt is also for Iran to protect itself against an attack, and to minimize the enormous damage caused by sanctions.

This sweeping worldview, at least according to Rezaei, still serves as the basis for Iran’s behaviour in the region. Turkey’s “absence” from the list due to its firm stance toward Assad, and which has caused verbal clashing between the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces and the Turkey’s foreign minister, is a real blow to Iran’s plan, hence the importance of Iran’s control over Syria.

It seems, then, that Iran does not see Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, where revolutions were able to replace the regimes, as countries that can presently be candidates to be added to the “golden belt.” In this context, it is necessary to discern that Iran does not see the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime in Egypt as easy prey. It is better not to rush and give Morsi’s visit in Iran any extra significance. Morsi’s visit in Tehran was approved after long deliberations – he is not arriving for an official visit, but rather is attending a Non-Alignment Movement conference, and is only visiting as a stop on his way to his visit to China.

Iran’s strategic worldview holds a solution to the Syria crisis and the deterioration in Lebanon. Even if Iran will be to gain a commitment from the Syria opposition to protect its interests after Assad falls, it is doubtful that it will continue to act compassionately toward its ally. Such commitments may very well be the solution for the opposition that cannot defeat the regime. In the past, meetings were held between Iran and representatives of the opposition and at one point Iran tried to mend ties between the different factions, including the Kurds. In the face of Western and Arab helplessness, as well as empty words from the UN, Iran may become the country that will solve the Syria crisis, and tie the ends of its golden belt that is slowly unraveling.