Iran sees hailing Assad as top priority

High-level meetings between Iranian and Syrian leaders have reasserted Iran’s financial, military, strategic, and geopolitical support to Assad

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

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While images of Iran homeless living in graves sock the nation, Iran’s state outlets and Persian-language newspapers decided instead to focus on the economic and strategic cooperation between Damascus and Tehran, and the meetings between the Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and senior Iranian officials in Tehran including Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.

Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi wrote an open letter to Rowhani. Farhardi suggested Iranian politicians to go into the streets to see how people are living. “Today, I read a shocking report about men, women and children who are living in graves of a cemetery near Tehran in these cold nights and now I am full of shame and have tears in my eyes,” Farhadi wrote.

Although the lifting of sanctions and the release of billions of dollars to the Iranian governments have provided significant economic boost to Iran’s officials, the living standards of Iran’s ordinary people are becoming harder and harder. Unemployment and inflation have reached record high.

One crucial factor behind the increasing poverty in Iran is Tehran’s spending of national wealth on supporting Assad and its proxies rather than assisting its own people. Financial corruptions and economic mismanagements are other reasons as well.

Assistance to Assad

The high-level meetings between Iranian and Syrian leaders were to reassert Iran’s financial, military, strategic, and geopolitical support to Assad’s forces. The meetings were also to send a message to the world that Iran and Syrian are on the winning side when it comes to the Syrian war.

Muallem also met with Ali Akbar Velayati, close advisor of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and director of the Strategic Studies Center of Iran’s Expediency Council.

To boast about Iran and Syria military capabilities, Velayati praised the recent military operations of Assad’s forces in Aleppo and he called the battle as “the victory of victories”. Velayati added: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has had long term and strategic relations with Syria since (the presidency of) Mr. Hafez al-Assad and it will continue…. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always stand beside the Syrian nation in various political arenas and will continue its supports and the Syrian nation will be the winner,”

One crucial factor behind rising poverty in Iran is its spending of national wealth on supporting Assad and its proxies rather than assisting its own people

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iran is now utilizing the ceasefire card as it desires to serve its geopolitical and ideological interests. After Russia, Iran and Assad’s forces heavily shelled the city of Aleppo and caused the oppositional groups to retreat, Tehran, Moscow and Damascus are advocating for ceasefire to maintain hold of the gained territories. In addition, by utilizing the ceasefire card, Iranian, Russian and Syrian leaders attempt to divert the international outcry regarding the humanitarian tragedy that occurred in Aleppo.

The truce does not mean that Iran, Syria and Russia are seeking a permanent political resolution, but searching for regaining the whole territories under their control. In a telephone conversation on December 31, Rowhani spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin emphasizing that the war will continue.

“Moderates” and “hardliners” support Assad equally

Iran’s publicized reception of Muallem and his delegation is aimed at sending a message to anti-Assad forces that the Islamic Republic’s support for Assad and his forces will remain robust as it has been in the nearly six-year Syrian war.

Iranian leaders, across the political spectrum, agree on Iran’s strategies and tactics in Syria. During his visit with Muallem, Rowhani pointed out: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has always stood by the Syrian nation in their resistance and at different political scenes, and will continue its support in the future,” and he added “We are confident that the Syrian people will achieve a final victory and success.”

Iran still views the destiny of the Syrian conflict as a grave matter of national security. Any change in the Syrian political establishment would significantly impact Iran’s regional influence and it will tip the regional balance of power against Tehran.

Iran is committed to view Assad, Tehran’s proxies, and its regional hegemonic ambitions as the priorities, rather than focusing on improving the living standards of its own citizens. Iran is committed to continue its financial, military, advisory intelligence, and political support to Assad. Tehran has provided Assad with billions of dollars in line credits, forces from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, recruiting Shiite militias from other countries including Afghanistan to fight in Syria, employing Iran’s proxies such as Hezbollah to help Assad forces.

As long as there exist no powerful collation to counter Iran’s influence in Syria, Khamenei and IRGC will not alter their geopolitical and strategic calculation in supporting Assad’s forces.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: [email protected], or on Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh.

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