Iran projects its power in Assad’s re-election

Iran has sought to project itself as a reliable power, that when promised to defend Assad it delivered

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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The major Shiite power Iran is boasting about the reelection of President Bashar al-Assad, with Tehran trumpeting his reelection as a defeat for the United States and some Arab countries in the region.

First of all it is significant to point out that, without doubt, the election lacks any sort of legitimacy and credibility. The election was held in the midst of war, where many parts of the nation are surrounded by the Assad forces, engulfed in the war, or controlled by the rebel groups. Also, there were no credible and objective observers monitoring the elections. Further, only a few pre-selected unknown and weak candidates were allowed to run against Bashar al-Assad. These factors unquestionably assured Assad’s bid to be reelected as president for a third seven-year term in the office.


A burst of announcements and declarations have come out of Iran, from top Iranian foreign policy figures including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, celebrating this victory.

These declarations are aimed at sending political signals from Tehran to the United States and other regional Arab powers regarding the regional balance of power. The Islamic Republic is asserting its ownership of an Arab country in the region. Tehran had even sent its observers to monitor the objectiveness and fairness of elections in Syria, in order to illustrate its possession of Syria and the crisis.

The Iranian government is attempting to project a picture that it totally and efficiently controls the destiny of, and the war in, Syria. The message from Tehran is clear; Iran is the key player even though the United States, the West, and other Arab countries are putting all their efforts to support the rebels. The message from Iran indicates that the balance of power will not be tipped as long as Tehran is backing the Syrian government.

Syria has been used as a platform by the Islamic Republic to project its power into the Arab world since its birth in 1979. In addition, Iranian authorities are using the current Assad victory as a credible vindication for Iran’s financial, advisory intelligence, economic, and military steadfast backing to the Assad’s government.

After more than three years of the conflict, Tehran apparently has delivered on its vow and has kept its word.

Majid Rafizadeh

Iran has spent billions of dollars in terms of financial credits, used Hezbollah to fight alongside the Syrian government forces, utilized Iraq as a territorial platform to deliver arms to Syrian forces, deployed Iraqi Shiite militias, and is currently deploying Afghan Shiites to the region according to latest reports. Although, the Islamic Republic repeatedly denies that it has deployed Iranian revolutionary troops on the ground in Syria (or it has sent officers to train Syrian governmental forces despite the valid and credible videos and reports), Iran’s military has mourned the killing of senior Revolutionary Guard officers while fighting in Syria on several occasions, such as Abdollah Eskandari (who was killed fighting just south of Damascus, according to a statement released by the Iranian Defense Ministry). Iranian officers being killed in Syria are currently numbered at 60 “martyrs” according to Syrian opposition sources.

Power projection

Secondly, the flow of these celebratory declarations by the Islamic Republic is clearly an attempt by Tehran to show its power projection in the Arab world. From the Iranian authorities’ view, although many Arab countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, are assisting the rebels, Tehran has single handedly been capable of retaining Assad in power.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, triumphantly and openly expressed his sense of victory by stating on the government-run Press TV, “The strategy of the U.S. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and European countries to overthrow Bashar al-Assad has failed,” adding, “this is a strategic failure for the Western, Arab and Zionist front and a big victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Tehran is attempting to show the failure of U.S. and Arab countries, foreign policy initiatives, and campaigns regarding the Syrian crisis and toppling of Assad. Senior Iranian officials have told the Guardian that the concentrated attempts to overthrow President Assad has failed, and this election shows that Tehran and its staunchest ally, Damascus, have won the war. Accordingly, chairman of Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi, an influential political figure and governmental insider, pointed out, "We have won in Syria,” adding, “The regime will stay. The Americans have lost it.”

This victory from Iranian authorities perspective is part of Iran’s extensive and concerted efforts to mirror and reflect the U.S. and Arab countries’ failed foreign policies when it comes to the Syrian crisis. This week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, told a Friends of Syria conference in Tehran, “Foreign powers should give up their illusions about fulfilling their personal desires and strategies through military methods in Syria.”

From realistic and political perspectives, when states and governments keep their words, it is a manifestation of power and political will. Since the crisis and uprising erupted in Syria, the Islamic Republic promised that it would not permit President Assad to be toppled. After more than three years of the conflict, Tehran apparently has delivered on its vow and has kept its word.

Nevertheless, looking deep in Iran’s foreign policy towards Syria, Tehran still bears a concealed and considerable amount of concerns regarding the destiny of its staunchest ally in the long-term.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected]

Rafizadeh is a regular political analyst and contributor for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few.

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