Syrian eyes on Iran

Bassel Oudat , Saturday 13 Jan 2018

The protests in Iran are being closely watched in Syria, as the fate of the regime in Damascus is bound up with that of the one in Tehran, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Protest in Tehran
People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Syria may be among the first foreign countries to be directly influenced by the uprising currently taking place in Iran. Developments in Iran are being closely watched in Syria, and many Syrians have become used to watching footage of Iranians protesting against the Islamic regime in Tehran on social media.

The Iranian chants of “death to the dictator,” a reference to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and “get out of Syria,” a criticism of Iran’s sending troops into Syria to shore up the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, have become familiar throughout the country.

The Syrian regime media has ignored the Iranian uprising, reporting merely that “troublemakers” have been protesting against rises in the price of eggs or “conspirators” have been trying to undermine the Iranian regime with foreign aid.

Syria will stand by Iran against this “conspiracy,” regime sources have said, with one Foreign Ministry spokesman saying Damascus “is confident that Iran’s leadership, government and people will foil this conspiracy and continue along the path of progress.”

“The sovereignty of Iran must be respected,” he said, “and there must be no interference in Iran’s domestic affairs.” He added that Syria “strongly condemned the positions of the US administration, the Zionist entity [Israel] and others regarding the current situation in Iran.”

The Syrian opposition has taken the opposite view, with the opposition National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces saying that it “stands by the Iranian people in demanding their rights and fully supports the popular uprising in Iran.”

 “The criminal behaviour and oppression used by the Iranian regime against the protesters will not solve the country’s problems,” it said.

Syrian opposition figures have issued a statement in solidarity with “the revolt against a regime that has dragged Iran and the entire Middle East into sectarian war.” The statement said they stood in solidarity with the “protesters demanding freedom and the removal of the shackles of the theocratic regime and Revolutionary Guard.”

They described the chants of the Iranian protesters as “proof of the burden of the Syrian tragedy on Iranian society. The Iranian intervention in Syria has contributed to its destruction, demographic disintegration and an upset in the balance of civilisations.”

The protests against the Iranian regime “reflect an awareness of what the mullahs have done in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. They speak of a desire to overturn this dark era in Iranian history.”

Tehran’s policy consists of attempts to export its domestic crises by generating conflicts and igniting wars, the Syrian opposition statement said.

“Iran has directly assisted the Al-Assad regime against the aspirations of the Syrian people and has for years participated in the bloodshed by sending in sectarian militias, providing military aid to the regime, and pursuing demographic change in Syria. It has been responsible for ethnic and sectarian cleansing and has exported chaos to other countries including Iraq and Yemen,” it added.

Iran is a key supporter of the Syrian regime, sending in military assistance and Iranian, Afghan and Arab militias to fight against the opposition forces. The Syrian opposition now hopes the Iranian uprising will turn into a revolution against the Iranian regime that has stepped in repeatedly to save Al-Assad.

The opposition wants to take advantage of the protests because they impact events in Syria by opening up a domestic and an overseas front for the regime in Tehran. If Iran is forced to focus on the domestic uprising, its assistance to the Syrian regime may weaken.

Many Syrians have drawn parallels between their revolution and the Iranian uprising, including the protesters raising banners with the time and the place written on them such that video footage of the demonstrations can then be broadcast in real time.

“Iran is part of the noose around Syria’s neck, along with Russia,” Ghaliya Qabani, a Syrian opposition figure, said. “Its tentacles are connected to sectarian groups that are motivated by hatred for others and loyalty to the Iranian supreme leader.”

“The flag of the Syrian Revolution has been hoisted in the Iranian protests, and Iranian and Syrian activists have created a Facebook page entitled “In Solidarity with the Iranian People” in Arabic and Farsi on the protests. This shows there is no animosity between the two peoples and the hostility towards the regimes in Tehran and Damascus,” she said.

For years, the Iranian regime has taken advantage of fractures in neighbouring societies to advance its own interests, pouncing on opportunities, lying about threats to Shiite shrines, and even fabricating facts to justify its interference.

It has taken advantage of the weakness of the Al-Assad regime, especially after the regime’s security and military forces were teetering on collapse early in the revolution. The Iranians promised their support for Al-Assad in return for a share of Syria, deploying sectarian militias and taking control of political and military decisions.

Head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qassem Suleimani began touring Syria like a colonial ruler, while Lebanese-Iranian Hizbullah fighters and Iraqi-Iranian Abu Al-Fadl Al-Abbas militias took control of swathes of the country, placing Syrian regime forces under their orders.

Iran has used poor Shiite youths from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen in its own interests, enrolling them into Iraqi and Lebanese militias and placing them under the command of its Revolutionary Guards. It has taken part in forced displacement deals, transporting residents after it destroyed their homes under the cover of regime and Russian airstrikes.

“We cannot be sure exactly what is happening in Iran, but the demonstrations should fill the hearts of the Syrian people with hope,” commented Syrian opposition figure Abdel-Rahman Mattar.

“The demonstrations may help ease the war launched by Al-Assad and his supporters Khamenei and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin against the Syrian people. The Iranian regime has been responsible for the ruthless security actions against the Syrian Revolution and in support of the Al-Assad tyranny. It has participated in the bloodshed that has affected more than one million people and displaced half the Syrian population. It has been responsible for the torture and killings in Syrian prisons through its control of the security agencies,” he said.

“The policies that the Syrians have been tasting are the same as those dealt out by the Iranian murderers in Iran and other countries buckling under Iranian domination,” Mattar said. 

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