Is Iran willing to give up on Assad?

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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Recent events have revealed that Iran has shown some sort of willingness to give up its support of Bashar al-Assad and admit that it is time for his departure. As the international community prepares to adopt new and stricter approaches towards Assad, following allegations that he organized the use of chemical weapons against civilians on August 21, Iran is preparing to close the “Assad chapter.”

What must be noted is that Iran, in addition to Russia and China, is a strong supporter of Bashar al-Assad and condemned this attack without accusing a particular party. Russia, however, accused the rebels of using Sarin gas.

A while ago, the head of the revolutionary guards said: “Syria and Assad are red lines for us. Any attack on Syria may be considered as a direct attack on Iran.” This red indicates the line of the resistance that Syria and Hezbollah established against Israel.

Ever since that Wednesday, photos of hundreds of dead people, mostly women and children have spread across the media. This has made it impossible for Iran to justify its support of Assad, especially with evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons against civilians. This constitutes a red line for President Barack Obama.

Who's guilty?

Among the first reactions to the use of Sarin gas Hassan Rowhani, Iran's new president, was quick to condemn the attack but did not point any fingers.

There's no doubt that Assad's end will also lead to Hezbollah's end.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

During a visit he made with government members to Khomeini's tomb, he voiced his deep concern and sadness saying that the international community must use its influence to prevent the use of chemical weapons throughout the world.

Phrasing his statement diplomatically, Rowhani clarified that Iran will not pay the price for its support of Bashar al-Assad if he is proven to be guilty of organizing the chemical attacks. What attracts attention is that Iran is showing some sort of willingness and acceptance of the attack that the U.S. and its allies may direct against Assad in Syria.

Moreover, Iranian governmental channels are airing a lot of programs that address new analysis of possible attacks against Syria and on expected targets.

One must note that all these details reveal a rapid transformation in Iran's foreign policy as well as its desire to adopt new diplomatic languages. Note that these languages are markedly different to those witnessed during Ahmadinejad’s era, even if Iran’s policy has not seen a radical change.

Some analysis on Iranian governmental channels indicates possible scenarios if the U.N. Security Council opts not to show support of the U.S. strikes on Syria. There's evidence of preparation in Iran for the phase that will come after Assad steps down and a glimmer of acceptance of a strike led by the U.S. in the region.

Domino effect

There's no doubt that Assad's end will also lead to Hezbollah's end. It will also lead the end of Iran's domination of the countries neighboring Israel. We cannot know for sure that Israel will be safer with Assad and Hezbollah's absence. But in the meantime, it's very important that the U.S. and its allies in the West work to resolve the crisis in Syria. It's somehow more important that the U.S. prevents Syria from turning into a safe haven for terrorism as in Iraq, than to know who is culpable of using Sarin gas. The struggle trespasses Syria's borders transferring the conflict to Lebanon and leaving effects in Iraq. It appears more like an ethnic and a religious war rather than one for the sake of democracy.

If Iran realizes that this extremism forms a huge threat to its national security interests, the best means to protect its personal interests is to take a neutral stance in this battle.

The two countries that have massive influence in Syria and possess veto power at the U.N. Security Council are Russia and China. The role Iran is playing is more important than Russia's despite the influences it's practicing on Hezbollah. Iran's current regional stance, in addition to its public support of Assad promotes tension in Islamic countries, especially among Sunnis.

But we must voice our optimism. Iran has witnessed a number of transformations since Rowhani assumed the presidency. The country is going through a new transitional phase in which it moves away from extremism in order to impose a more rational administration.

Rowhani's election has highlighted the changes Iran is witnessing as well as the importance of implementing these changes before it's too late. The supreme guide has altered the way he speaks and has called on the revolutionary guards to maintain calm and not interfere in most international events. In recent months the revolutionary guards have dissociated themselves from events. It's surprising to witness the revolutionary guards' lack of interference in Syrian affairs and other regional affairs. The revolutionary guards may be convinced that they must not interfere in these issues.

For the time being, the orders of Rowhani must be obeyed.

Finally, we must note that the regime in Tehran accepts and understands the idea that the concept of diplomacy must replace that of political venturing. And this is what Rowhani will prove to us in the near future.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on August 30, 2013.


Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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