by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 4, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1443)
With Russia, the US and NATO regimes entangled in Ukraine, opportunities have opened up for other players to assume a greater role. This is especially true in West Asia and the Middle East. Islamic Iran, already a leading power in the region, has been strengthened further.
If governments in Central Asia look to Islamic Iran for friendship, this is also true of the Middle East. Last month, Syrian President Bashar al Asad paid a quick visit to Tehran (May 8) followed a few days later (May 12) by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The Saudis, too, are trying to mend fences with Islamic Iran.
Amid all this, Tehran pursues an independent policy of strengthening relations with both Russia and China. Uncle Sam dare not demand of Iran to not strengthen relations with Russia, as it had demanded of Pakistan and orchestrated the overthrow of a legitimate government.
Take the case of Syria where a foreign-instigated proxy war has gone on since February 2011. The west and its regional surrogates’ aim was regime change in Damascus. After 11 years of bloodletting and the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure, the regime change operation has been stopped in its tracks.
This is the direct result of the help provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran which prevented the collapse of Bashar al Asad’s government. Iran and its allies, especially the Hizbullah have extended immense help to fight off the foreign-backed takfiri terrorists and their backers: the US, zionist Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a host of other lesser players.
NATO’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine has entered its fourth month. The late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had said that a “week is a long time in politics.” Four months could be considered a lifetime. It has shaken global politics in many profound ways.
Western regimes have projected Russia’s military operations in Ukraine as a ‘failure’. Based on this faulty analysis, another false narrative has been weaved: that Russian forces are leaving Syria to augment forces in Ukraine that have suffered massive casualties.
While it is true that Russian forces have suffered casualties—this is always the case with forces in offensive mode—it is a huge stretch to claim that Russia is so short of forces that it has to redeploy forces from Syria. Its troops deployed in Syria do not run into hundreds of thousands; perhaps a few thousand at most. Their deployment to Ukraine could not possibly make such a huge difference. Besides, Russia has not deployed the bulk of its forces in Ukraine.
This brings us to the third point: the short visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to Tehran on May 8. During the few hours he spent in the Iranian capital, Asad had meetings with the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei and President Ibrahim Raeisi before returning to Damascus.
While his second visit to Iran in three years—the last time Asad visited was in 2019—the recent visit laid to rest speculation that Syria was moving away from Iran and closer to the Arabian regimes, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that works as a stalking horse for Saudi Arabia.
This was also confirmed by the Syrian news agency Sana which described Asad’s trip as a “working visit.” It quoted Asad as affirming his desire for continued strong ties between Tehran and Damascus. He said to the Rahbar Imam Seyyed Khamenei that while the US had been weakened, continued cooperation between Iran and Syria was important “in order not to allow America to rebuild the international terrorist system that it used to harm the countries of the world.”
Further, Asad assured his Iranian hosts that regardless of his government’s relations with the UAE or any other Arab country, he attached the highest importance to Syria’s alliance with Iran. The Syrian president identified areas where Damascus wanted broader coordination with Tehran: security, political and economic fields.
These are also areas of huge importance to Tehran. The Islamic Republic has invested heavily in these fields for 11 years. Despite suffering sanctions, Iran has shored up Syria’s economy during these difficult years. Its military advice and deployment of personnel has been no less important. A number of senior Revolutionary Guards commanders have been martyred through zionist attacks in Syria.
General Qassem Soleimani heads the list of martyrs who had just flown in from Damascus to Baghdad when he was martyred by a US missile fired from a drone on January 3, 2020. Donald Trump and his minions were directly responsible for this war crime for which they will be punished.
In his meeting with Asad, the Rahbar mentioned the martyr Qassem Soleimani and his “special liking towards Syria” for which he “literally sacrificed his life”. The martyred Quds Force commander viewed the issue of Syria as a “sacred duty and obligation” because without Syrian cooperation, the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and al-Quds would be weakened.
It was General Soleimani who had worked tirelessly to strengthen the “Resistance Front”. Syria became an important pillar of this “Front”. This was acknowledged by President Ibrahim Raiesi during his meeting with Asad. The Rahbar who had deep affection for the martyred commander, emphasized that “This bond [that General Soleimani had nurtured and strengthened] is vital for both countries and we should not let it weaken. On the contrary, we should strengthen it as much as possible.”
It must be borne in mind that Syrian land is still under foreign occupation. The Golan Heights occupied by the zionist regime in 1967 and illegally usurped by the settler-colonial entity have to be liberated. In Syria’s north-east, large swathes of territory are illegally occupied by Turkish and American forces. The latter are also stealing Syria’s oil. Both Turkey and the US also support, finance and arm the takfiri terrorists. The Syrian army needs help to liberate its lands. Only the Islamic Republic can offer such help.
In his meeting with Asad, President Raiesi referred to this when he said: “The whole of the Syrian land must be liberated from foreign occupiers. This occupation should not be subject to the passage of time, and the occupying forces and their mercenaries should be expelled.” The “passage of time” was a clear reference to the zionist occupation of the Golan Heights.
The Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei assured Asad that Iran will “continue to support Syria to complete its victory over terrorism and liberate the rest of the country’s lands.”