Regional Repercussions: Part I
As fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad intensified, Iranian and Arab spokesmen warned that Assad’s collapse would trigger an Iranian reaction against Israel, mainly by means of Hizbullah. They said the Syrian crisis was directly linked to Tehran’s nuclear crisis, and emphasized that the Iranian leadership was committed to protecting Assad. The spokesman cautioned that instability in Syria would spill over into other parts of the Middle East, hinting at Israel and Saudi Arabia, which Damascus and Tehran claim are behind terrorist operations against Assad.
Assad’s collapse will be a harsh blow to the Iranian regime, his unshakable supporter, undermining Tehran’s geopolitical standing, fracturing the Tehran-Damascus axis, and harming Hizbullah, a longstanding proxy of both Tehran and Damascus, and its status in Lebanon.
Most Iranian spokesmen have claimed that an Israeli attack against any of the members of the resistance axis – Syria, Lebanon (Hizbullah), or Iran – will be met with a joint response from all branches of the resistance against Israel, and even against the U.S. and UK. In his July 18 speech, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah likewise emphasized that “Israel is preparing a first strike [against Lebanon], just as [it did] in all previous wars,” and promised that Hizbullah was preparing “a big surprise for the Israelis.”
As it is currently facing a diplomatic crisis in which it is limited in its ability to take open military action against the West, Tehran has adopted a policy of orchestrating terror attacks against Israeli and Western targets throughout the world, far from its borders. (See MEMRI reports from the last month: Tehran’s Response To The Intensification Of Sanctions: A Determined Stance On The Nuclear Issue, Controlled Threat In ‘Great Prophet 7’ Missile Exercise, Threats Of Terrorism; In Advance Of Moscow Talks, Tehran-Damascus Axis, In Fight For Survival, Threatens Conflagration In Region And Beyond.)
This modus operandi enables Iran to respond with force to its current crisis with impunity. Indeed, it has facilitated Tehran in its primary goal, at present, of diverting the world’s attention from the nuclear crisis in Iran, and rolling the ball of conflict into Western courts.
Indeed, there have recently been several terror attacks plotted against Israelis in various parts of the world, most notably in Kenya in late June, in Cypress in mid-July, and in Bulgaria this week, on July 18. The latter attack and the attempted attacks that preceded it, which have been attributed to Iranian elements, were seemingly meant to trigger an Israeli reaction against Hizbullah or even Iran itself. Such a reaction would present Iran with a pretext for launching an all-out war, while blaming Israel for sparking it. Statements by Iranian senior officials and their proxies in Lebanon regarding an expected Israeli strike in the near future reflect an intent on Iran’s part to use the aforementioned terror attacks to prompt such a strike from Israel.
The following is an overview of Arab and Iranian warnings regarding the repercussions of Assad’s collapse:
Iranian Spokesmen: The Syrian Arena – A Red Line For Iran
On July 10, 2012, Mahdi Taeb, head of the ‘Ammar think tank, which is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, admitted that Iran was involved militarily in the Syrian crisis: “We are now involved in Syria, which is our forefront, and we stand firm on this front against all arrogance [a reference to the West headed by the U.S.]…”
Iranian senior official Mohammad Sadeq Al-Hosseini, who is close to the Iranian regime and is a columnist for the Syrian government daily Teshreen, cautioned that Iran was committed to protecting Assad, its ally in the resistance axis, and, addressing Moscow, emphasized that any physical harm to Assad would set off a regional war. Tehran also demanded that Moscow stand firm in the face of Western pressure against Assad: “The linkage between the crises [in Iran and Syria] is a given in any war that might break out against any partner in the [resistance] axis. In this context, it must be noted that the senior Iranian leadership has sent a clear message in writing to the Russian leadership – as mentioned by [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail] Bogdanov on the eve of [UN Special Envoy] Kofi Annan’s visit to Tehran – [declaring] that any harm to President Bashar Al-Assad could spark an all-out regional war. [The Iranian leadership called] Moscow’s attention to [the fact that] the deceitful West and its hypocritical sectarian allies among the Arabs and new Ottomans intend to reenact the Libyan scenario in Syria [i.e. a Western military intervention to help topple the regime], and are hoping to ensnare the Russian side – so Russia must be extremely wary…”
In mid-June, Iranian Deputy Chief-of-Staff Masoud Jazayeri warned that an attack on Syria was a red line for Iran, which would act resolutely to protect the Syrian regime. He said: “The resistance in the region is not an issue to which Iran is indifferent, and it will take measures against anyone who rashly crosses this red line… Those who wish to harm the resistance will be punished in due course.”
As the fighting against Assad escalated, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned against foreign intervention in Syria. Linking the stability of the entire region to that of Syria, he stated that the Syrian crisis might spill over into other parts of the Middle East: “The stability of Syria affects the stability of the region. Various countries that are thinking of interfering in Syria must consider the implications of such a move. Any act of terrorism [in Syria] will lead to the spread of terrorism [in the region at large].”
At a July 12, 2012 conference in Tehran, attended by the Syrian ambassador andby senior Iranian officials, former Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official Hassan Abbasi said that a war in Syria “could turn into a world war,” and would hasten the revolution in Jordan and topple the Saudi regime. He added: “Let me warn the American strategists that the Zionist regime is a hostage of three operational apparatuses in the region: the Syrian regime, the Lebanese resistance [i.e. Hizbullah], and the Islamic resistance in Gaza. This means that if the Zionist regime and NATO launch a war against Syria, instead of attacking NATO, Syria will aim its missiles at strategic targets of the Zionist regime – a step that will spell a lot of trouble for this regime.”
At a March 7, 2012 meeting of the Iranian Assembly of Experts, Khamenei’s senior advisor Ali, Akbar Velayati, described Syria as “the front [line] of the resistance [axis],” and explained that the pressures being exerted against it originated with Israel, which is concerned over the changes in the regional power-balance.
At an IRGC conference on February 26, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi stressed the importance of Syria as a link between Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinians. He added that Syria is an arm of Iran, and therefore the struggle against it is, in fact, a struggle against Iran, in retaliation for Iran’s assistance to Hizbullah in the 2006 Lebanon war. He said: “Of all the Arab countries, Syria is the only one with which Iran has good relations. Today, a number of [Arab] countries have become worse than the infidels and have joined forces to strike a blow at Syria, because it is the bridge linking Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine. Thus, a blow against it is a blow against Iran.
“This struggle against Syria is actually revenge against Iran for its [involvement in] the 2006 Lebanon war. Seeing that they could not fight Iran, [these countries] decided to break its arm [i.e. Syria], for they concluded that the only way to prevent Iran from exerting its influence over the Islamic countries was to destroy Syria.”
It should be noted that, as early as mid-October 2011, Expediency Council Chairman Mohsen Rezai told Al-Manar TV that Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas were Iran’s “red line,” and that Tehran would not permit anyone to place obstacles in their path, since they are Islam’s vanguard in the struggle against Israel.
Arab Spokesmen: Hizbullah Preparing For War Following Assad’s Collapse
Arab spokesmen spoke, as well, of mobilizing the resistance axis to respond to the Syrian campaign:
Ahmad Jibril: If Syria Is Attacked – We Will Join The Campaign Along With Iran and Hizbullah
Ahmad Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), told Al-Mayadeen TV that his allies in Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah were ready to coordinate a joint response to any attack. He said: “If an external attack [on Syria] takes place – I have discussed this with the brothers in Syria, with Hassan Nasrallah, and with the brothers in Iran – we will be part of that campaign… Hassan [Nasrallah] said that he would be part of the campaign… The Iranian leadership has told him that it would not abandon Syria in case of aggression, and that it warned the Turks not to play with fire, and that any intervention [in Syria] is a red line.”
Lebanese Columnist: Hizbullah Preparing For A Post-Assad War, Which Could Be Regional
In a July 6 article, Fahdi Shamia, a columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, estimated that Hizbullah would not accept Assad’s ouster, which would represent a major blow to the organization, and would respond militarily. He pointed to several signs that support this estimation, including Hizbullah’s preparations on the ground against inter-Lebanese forces and its fortification of its headquarters in the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, alongside the publication of fatwas permitting action against Lebanese and Syrian enemies. Shamia warned that Hizbullah might start a civil war in Lebanon or aim its weapons outward, alluding to Israel.
Shamia clarified that due to Hizbullah’s considerable military capabilities inside and outside Lebanon, it is capable of staging a coup that could take the form of anything from “an unarmed demonstration of power to an action [even] larger than its May 7, [2008 takeover of areas in Beirut]. Hizbullah can create major anarchy with its weapons, and can harm its foes directly and even indirectly… Hizbullah can transform Lebanon into a springboard for regional attacks that will start with UNIFIL forces and will not stop even at the borders of other countries and continents…”
Former Jordanian Information Minister: Russia And Iran Wish To Trigger A Regional, Or Even Global, War
Saleh Al-Qilab, former Jordanian minister of information and a member of the upper house of parliament, warned in a column on July 5, 2012, that Iran and Russia would soon try to initiate a regional, or even global, war: “What is certain is that matters are progressing towards a regional war that could develop into a world war… Following the recent events, it is clear that the Russians, and of course Iran at their side, have begun to seriously [consider] triggering a regional war, which, as far as they are concerned, can escalate into a world war, in order to save the Syrian president…
“The truth is that this [option]… is one that Bashar Al-Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians have considered from day one. The idea was to [artificially create] a conflict on the Israeli border, in order to create the impression that the Syrian president is dealing with external aggression, and that his opponents within Syria are merely agents of Zionism and of the aggressive Israeli state… But this [option] was abandoned due to fears of Israel[‘s response]… As matters developed and [the fingers] of the Syrian people started to close around Bashar Al-Assad’s neck, the option of orchestrating a war reemerged… The incident in which a Turkish plane was shot down;… the stream of Russian weapons that continues to flow freely [to Syria];… and the continuing [Syrian] aggression towards Jordan – [all these] are part of the attempts to bring about this war, which could erupt at any moment…
“It has already been proven that the Russians were behind the downing of the Turkish plane, with the goal of triggering a swift response by Turkey and NATO, and dragging them into a conflict – [a scenario] that is still very possible. Russia and Iran, which are interested in miring the region in a new war, are quick to hasten the eruption of such a war – especially when all signs and events on the ground indicate that the ouster of Bashar Al-Assad has become certain, and that there is no way to save him, other than igniting the entire region…”
*A. Savyon is director of MEMRI’s Iranian Media Project.