Iran Begins to Envisage Syria without Assad
During the past few days, the deployment of NATO missiles on the Turkey-Syria border by this organization has once again brought up the issue of NATO expansion to the East. How significant, in your opinion, is this deployment and what are its objectives?
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, NATO's policy was to expand towards the East. With US attacks against Afghanistan, the armies of NATO member countries were deployed in this country and performed missions which were beyond their official obligations and greatly helped the US in stabilizing its occupation. Also during the past two years, the deployment of NATO's missile defense shield on the borders between Iran and Turkey is indicative of NATO's plan to expand and develop military capabilities in the Middle East and to use Turkey's geographical situation for Western objectives. With the outset of people's protests against authoritarian rulers in Arab countries, the US vastly used NATO's capacity to intervene in Libya's developments. NATO’s military operations in Libya, which ultimately led to the downfall of Qaddafi, showed its willingness to be actively present in the Middle East. Right now, the efforts of western and Arab countries and also Turkey in the Middle East are concentrated on the overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria. Therefore, it seems that the deployment of NATO missiles is aimed at such an objective and to also protect Turkey from possible reactions.
With the formation of the new opposition coalition led by Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib in the Doha Conference, new diplomatic and international efforts have been made to recognize Assad's opponents. Could this mean that new developments are set to happen in the present situation in Syria?
The big problem the West is faced with in removing Bashar Assad from power is the severe differences between the opponents of the Syrian government. During the past year and a half, great efforts have been made by Arab countries, Turkey, France, Britain, and the US with Qatar as host and with Saudi help in order to create understanding between these groups. But the coalition western countries seek has not yet been created. Although almost all of the opponents of the Syrian government agree with the removal of Bashar Assad, they have different opinions with regard to the desired structure which would replace him. At the present time, by using the financial resources of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the West tries to form a new coalition of the opponents and to force other opposition groups to join this coalition by recognizing it. But the big problem of western countries is that the individuals and groups which fight inside Syria do not accept this coalition and consider its members as citizens who reside outside of the country and attempt to use this opportunity to gain power. Domestic armed groups consider the majority of the opponents who live outside of the country as affiliated individuals who have, hitherto, divided the ministries and government organizations among themselves. Nevertheless, it seems that, with Obama's re-election in the US presidential election, the US has begun a new political process to create unity between the opponents of the Syrian government so that it will be able to provide the necessary structures to replace Bashar Assad.
A few weeks ago, Iran held a meeting with the presence of the domestic opponents of the Syrian government. A few days ago, Ali Larijani visited Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey. Can it be said that Iran has taken a new position with regard to Syria?
Iran believes in gradual reforms in Syria and the use of legal processes of the present government to hold elections on the promised date. It also believes that, until then, Bashar Assad must remain in power so that the changes in Syria occur in a calm atmosphere and without foreign interventions. On this basis, the Tehran Conference was held with the attendance of those groups of opponents of the Syrian government who do not disagree with this trend. But it seems that the majority of the opponents of the present government believe that real reforms will happen when Bashar Assad leaves power. Therefore, it seems that Iran is also gradually thinking about Syria without Bashar Assad. Of course, the main concern of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the West's intervention in Syria and its attempts to separate Syria from the axis of resistance against Israel. But western countries themselves are well aware of the fact that there is no possibility of bringing to power a government which is friendly with Israel. Basically, different political groups agree with the overthrow of the dictator but they do not agree with cooperation with Israel.
What impacts, do you think, can the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians and the end of the Gaza crisis have on the situation in Syria?
The 8-day Gaza war drew the attention of world public opinion and regional countries to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, thus, Syria lost its priority. The end of the Gaza crisis has created an opportunity for the US and the western governments to, once again, concentrate on the issue of the Syrian crisis and to pursue the downfall of Bashar Assad.
During the past few days, the Kurdish population of Syria formed the "Free Kurdish Army" in their meeting in Erbil in line with cooperation and coordination with the Free Syrian Army, whose duty is to cooperate with other opposition groups of the Syrian government aiming to overthrow the ruling government. Can this measure be considered a development in hurting Bashar Assad? Is there a possibility for the independence of Syria’s Kurdistan province?
The Kurds assume that they have, hitherto, been the victors of developments in the Middle East. The downfall of Saddam empowered the Iraqi Kurds and the government of the state of Kurdistan was formed. During the past ten years, the Kurdish parties, with US cooperation, have used a golden opportunity to develop their political and military structures. Basically, the issue of the Kurds is not the government of Bashar Assad and the government of Erdogan; they rather attempt to gain the most benefit from the developments in Syria and Turkey to create the Great Kurdistan. At times, they cooperated with Bashar Assad and now they act against him, just as the Iraqi Kurds, at one time, cooperated with the central government and currently cooperate with Turkey against the policies of the central government now that their power has increased, in order to take advantage of the conflict between Turkey and Syria toward their own benefits. The Barzanis even cooperate with the PKK which fights against the government of Turkey and to the benefit of Bashar Assad, for they intend to use the crisis in the Middle East to their own benefit.
Considering the collection of developments during the past few weeks at a domestic level in Syria and at regional and international levels, is there a possibility, in your opinion, for serious developments in the Syrian situation?
Right now, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have hugely invested in regime change in Syria. On the other hand, Turkey has rendered all of its neighboring, diplomatic, and training capacities to the Syrian opposition. Western countries have also given permission to arm and equip the opposition and encourage the armed opponents of Bashar Assad to expand their military operations inside Syria. Many al-Qaeda forces go to Syria from Libya, Pakistan, Chechnya, and other Arab countries to both fight against the government of Syria and gain considerable financial resources from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. For the US, the killing of al-Qaeda forces and members of the Syrian army are both desirable, for the US intends to dissolve the Syrian army and replace it with a new army with a western structure, and it also considers al-Qaeda its enemy. Therefore, the war scene in Syria has provided a proper atmosphere so that the al-Qaeda forces, instead of confronting the US, deplete their energy by fighting against the Syrian army and ultimately being killed.
Nevertheless, the present situation in Syria is not sustainable. Either the government of Syria must revive its ruling power in all parts of the country, particularly in big cities like Aleppo and Damascus, or the opposition will succeed in overthrowing Bashar Assad in a war of attrition and with the help of the coalition of western and Arab countries and by using Turkey's capacities. But only the future can clarify whether calm and peace will return to Syria or whether this country will be faced with a new sectarian war.