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Published on July 16th, 2012 | by Usman Butt
Image ©   [caption id="attachment_10725" align="alignnone" width="563"] © FreedomHouse[/caption]   Following the latest massacre in which 200 people are alleged to have been killed, the overall death toll in Syria since the uprising began last year has been brought to 16,000.  This massacre comes after fears have been raised about the potential use of chemical weapons and the security of those weapons. The fear in the International community is that these chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. As matters stand, these are the two greatest concerns that the International media and community are focused on when discussing Syria. However there is another concern stemming from Russian support for the Syrian regime. A month ago it was revealed that the Russians were shipping arms to Syria, when a Russian ship bound for Syria was stopped and held by the British government off the coast of Scotland.  The ship contained attack helicopters, which the Russian government claimed belonged to the Syrian government. These helicopters were sent to Russia from Syria for repairs and were (when seized in Scotland) on the way back to Syria.   These reports follow months of western pressure and targeting of Russia, as Hillary Clinton declared that Russia and China will pay the price for supporting the Syrian regime.  Similar charges have been made against Iran. This begs the question what is Russia and Iran’s actual position on Syria. Iran’s position is not as straight forward as it is often presumed in the west, as analysis on Iran’s positions is often clouded by the on-going Iranophobia and anxiety about Iran. Iran and Syria have been in an ‘official’ alliance for over 30 years, which followed the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Khomeini’s Islamic republic. Syria was amongst the first countries to recognize the new republic. Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran and Syria had been enemies as the Syrian regime followed a pan-Arab nationalist ideology. Part of this ideology included a stand-off with Israel, with whom the Syrian wanted to achieve a regional balance of power with.  However, the Shah was a pro-American and Pro-Israeli regime and acted to prevent the spread of pan-Arabism. But when the Shah fell Syria saw an opportunity in the new Iran to use against Israel. Syria also feared Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Iran was a useful buffer against him. This alliance was then solidified during the 8 years Iran-Iraq war and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. More recently, Iranian and Syrian support for Lebanese Hezbollah has characterised the relationship between the two.    However, this has not been a smooth relationship and has been plagued with in-fighting from day one until the present. The first important point about this relationship is that Iran and Syria do not have an ideological commitment to each other. Their alliance is based on pragmatic politics or ‘real politics’. Syria is a secular pan-Arab state and Iran is an Islamic state. Iran and Syria have clashed over Iran’s idea to export the revolution as Syria banned political Islam. The second point is that in the 90’s Syria held secret talks with Israel, a move which Iran opposed. There have been many incidences of in-fighting like this. However the relationship has endured until this day. So what is Iran’s position on the Syria uprising/crisis now?  It was revealed in the Syrian leaks (files which Wiki leaks released on Syria), that Iran had sent Syria a billion dollars since the uprising began to help Syria side step sanctions. Despite this, Iran’s position on Syria is still not entirely clear. According to Mohammad Ataie writing for the Guardian newspaper Iran is trying to broker a peaceful solution in Syria.    According to the article Iran has had substantial contact with the Syrian opposition and has tried to push the Syrian regime into a settlement with the opposition. However, Iranian leaders have been disappointed at the response from Syrian leaders. Last year’s elections in Syria which Iran pushed the Syrian regime to hold was meant to get the opposition to become a part of the government. The Syrian regime held the election but refused to allow the opposition to take positions in government. This is said to have annoyed the Iranian government. Last September President Ahmadinejad said that President Assad should respect the wishes of his people (subtle hint leave power). What this demonstrates is that Iran’s influence over Syria is extremely limited. Although Iran has supported Syria in the international arena, its influence inside Syria is restrained. A similar picture emerges in relations to Russian involvement in Syria. One Russian analyst described the Russian influence over Syria as a negative one. Russia supports Syria in the UN Security Council and sells arms to Syria however, like Iran it has little influence over the behaviour of the Syrian regime. Russia has encouraged reforms in Syria which has fallen on deaf ears inside Syria. It is said that Russia is working on an exit strategy for Assad which could include offering Assad exile in Moscow.  Whatever happens inside Syria it is clear that it will depend on the opposition and the Assad regime and not the outside world.

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What is Moscow’s and Tehran’s actual position on Syria?

 

© FreedomHouse

 

Following the latest massacre in which 200 people are alleged to have been killed, the overall death toll in Syria since the uprising began last year has been brought to 16,000.  This massacre comes after fears have been raised about the potential use of chemical weapons and the security of those weapons. The fear in the International community is that these chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. As matters stand, these are the two greatest concerns that the International media and community are focused on when discussing Syria. However there is another concern stemming from Russian support for the Syrian regime. A month ago it was revealed that the Russians were shipping arms to Syria, when a Russian ship bound for Syria was stopped and held by the British government off the coast of Scotland.  The ship contained attack helicopters, which the Russian government claimed belonged to the Syrian government. These helicopters were sent to Russia from Syria for repairs and were (when seized in Scotland) on the way back to Syria.

 

These reports follow months of western pressure and targeting of Russia, as Hillary Clinton declared that Russia and China will pay the price for supporting the Syrian regime.  Similar charges have been made against Iran. This begs the question what is Russia and Iran’s actual position on Syria. Iran’s position is not as straight forward as it is often presumed in the west, as analysis on Iran’s positions is often clouded by the on-going Iranophobia and anxiety about Iran. Iran and Syria have been in an ‘official’ alliance for over 30 years, which followed the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Khomeini’s Islamic republic. Syria was amongst the first countries to recognize the new republic. Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran and Syria had been enemies as the Syrian regime followed a pan-Arab nationalist ideology. Part of this ideology included a stand-off with Israel, with whom the Syrian wanted to achieve a regional balance of power with.  However, the Shah was a pro-American and Pro-Israeli regime and acted to prevent the spread of pan-Arabism. But when the Shah fell Syria saw an opportunity in the new Iran to use against Israel. Syria also feared Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Iran was a useful buffer against him. This alliance was then solidified during the 8 years Iran-Iraq war and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. More recently, Iranian and Syrian support for Lebanese Hezbollah has characterised the relationship between the two. 

 

However, this has not been a smooth relationship and has been plagued with in-fighting from day one until the present. The first important point about this relationship is that Iran and Syria do not have an ideological commitment to each other. Their alliance is based on pragmatic politics or ‘real politics’. Syria is a secular pan-Arab state and Iran is an Islamic state. Iran and Syria have clashed over Iran’s idea to export the revolution as Syria banned political Islam. The second point is that in the 90’s Syria held secret talks with Israel, a move which Iran opposed. There have been many incidences of in-fighting like this. However the relationship has endured until this day. So what is Iran’s position on the Syria uprising/crisis now?  It was revealed in the Syrian leaks (files which Wiki leaks released on Syria), that Iran had sent Syria a billion dollars since the uprising began to help Syria side step sanctions. Despite this, Iran’s position on Syria is still not entirely clear. According to Mohammad Ataie writing for the Guardian newspaper Iran is trying to broker a peaceful solution in Syria. 

 

According to the article Iran has had substantial contact with the Syrian opposition and has tried to push the Syrian regime into a settlement with the opposition. However, Iranian leaders have been disappointed at the response from Syrian leaders. Last year’s elections in Syria which Iran pushed the Syrian regime to hold was meant to get the opposition to become a part of the government. The Syrian regime held the election but refused to allow the opposition to take positions in government. This is said to have annoyed the Iranian government. Last September President Ahmadinejad said that President Assad should respect the wishes of his people (subtle hint leave power). What this demonstrates is that Iran’s influence over Syria is extremely limited. Although Iran has supported Syria in the international arena, its influence inside Syria is restrained. A similar picture emerges in relations to Russian involvement in Syria. One Russian analyst described the Russian influence over Syria as a negative one. Russia supports Syria in the UN Security Council and sells arms to Syria however, like Iran it has little influence over the behaviour of the Syrian regime. Russia has encouraged reforms in Syria which has fallen on deaf ears inside Syria. It is said that Russia is working on an exit strategy for Assad which could include offering Assad exile in Moscow.  Whatever happens inside Syria it is clear that it will depend on the opposition and the Assad regime and not the outside world.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.



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