Will Iran choose diplomacy over military fight in Syria?

With its military already present in Syria, it is not clear how much Iran can help towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been busy with nuclear talks with Western powers for the past two years, has now been summoned to talks of a different type – a U.N. peace conference on Syria, slated to be held on January 25.

The success of the nuclear talks had served as an introduction to Iran among the international community after decades of isolation, but inclusion into international politics hasn’t yet proven to be the easy task that politicians in Tehran had been expecting.

Big challenges lie ahead for Iranian President Hassan Rowhani over the crisis in Syria and the roles Iran has played in it, potentially jeopardizing the stability and security that Tehran had needed to fully implement the nuclear accord.

There are domestic needs for the nuclear accord to go ahead as planned, which are mainly economic, but the international community expects Iran to have a more active diplomatic involvement in the Syria talks.

The Syrian crisis has been ongoing for almost five years and with hundreds of thousands of lives lost and much of the country being destroyed, alongside the proxy wars and political wrangling, there are no clear indicators that these peace talks will amount to much.

Iran’s involvement in Syria, which has been always described as ‘logistical and advisory assistance’ to the Assad regime, has been exposed as a strong military ground presence. The number of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) killed in Syria is increasing almost daily and is directing attention towards Tehran’s strategy.

With its military already present in Syria, it is not clear how much Iran can help towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis, even with a skilled foreign minister like Mr. Zarif being involved.

With its military already present in Syria, it is not clear how much Iran can help towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

It is important to understand that the Revolutionary Guards’ presence is not fully supervised by the president, but by the Supreme Leader who is in charge of the armed forces. Therefore, Zarif may be negotiating, but Iran’s diplomatic role in the Syrian crisis can never be furthered without Ayatollah Khamenei’s stamp of approval.

If the military involvement is shifted towards diplomatic channels, Iran can continue to build its credibility as a leader in the international community and become a constructive force in a broad-based political solution.

With the death tolls of Iranian casualties in Syria reported to have reached almost 300, many in Iran are openly questioning the reasoning behind their nation’s military presence in the conflict.

It would be wrong to assume, of course, that the majority of Iranians are against the IRGC’s actions. Some of these commanders are perceived as heroes, having previously served in Iraq. Still, it saddens many Iranians that these heroes are being killed without reason, particularly that this military involvement is now conflicting with the promise of a political solution.

Public resistance and anger perhaps convinced Ayatollah Khamenei to agree to be involved in a diplomatic process and so Iran accepted the invitation sent by Russia and the U.S. With two major elections coming up in February 2016, a high voter turnout is one of the most important desires for Tehran right now.

Having these two major elections happening just after the Syria talks, hardliners may be pushed towards supporting a diplomatic solution. Zarif and Rowhani have already stated that Iran intends to engage and cooperate in the talks. I believe this is the only way for Iran to achieve its goal of becoming a respected regional power.

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

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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