In his July 15, 2018 column in the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the Assad regime, Firas 'Aziz Al-Dib took the unusual line of criticizing Iran, a major Syria ally, for statements made by senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati. Velayati, an international affairs advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, boasted in a July 13 lecture that the Assad regime would have fallen in weeks had it not been for the Iranian intervention in the Syria war.
Observing that "exaggerated" claims of this sort have rarely been heard from such a senior Iranian official close to Iran's Supreme Leader, Al-Dib rejected Velayati's assertion, noting that in the first two years of the war Syria fought the rebels alone, with no help from any of its allies. He also directed a barbed comment at Iran, stating that some Syria allies did not support Syria at first and refused to believe its version of the reality in Syria. He added that in the past, Iran even drew close to Syria's enemies, Qatar and Turkey, who support the Syrian rebels. In addition, Al-Dib took umbrage at the fact that Velayati had referred to the "Assad government" rather than the "Syrian government," and asked how the Iranian presence in Syria, which is limited to military advisors, could have possibly prevented the country's collapse. Finally, Al-Dib stressed that nobody had the right to take credit for Syria's steadfastness in the war.
The following are excerpts from his column:
Left: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Right: Ali Akbar Velayati, International affairs advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (Source: Almayadeen.net, April 12, 2018)
"Two days ago [July 13, 2018], in a lecture at the Valdai [International Discussion Club] in Moscow, Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor to Ali Khamenei, the leader of the revolution in Iran, said: 'The government (of President) Bashar Al-Assad would have fallen in weeks without Iran's aid – and without the Iranian presence, Syria and Iraq would [today] be ruled by [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.'
"This is an exaggeration, which we have become accustomed to hearing from numerous Iranian media outlets or political commentators, or from the lips of blatant Iran supporters... We have also become accustomed to hearing such exaggeration from figures representing Iran's official stream, from the president to the ministers and down to the junior officials – for example, the April 2016 [statement] by Iranian President Hassan Rohani at the Environment, Religion, and Culture conference in the capital Tehran: 'Without the Islamic Republic, Damascus and Baghdad would have fallen to ISIS.' But this may be one of the rare times we hear such statements from figures directly representing [Supreme] leader Khamenei.
"Furthermore, these statements were uttered by a political figure – one who we can safely say is No. 1 in Iranian political activity today, because of the experience he has acquired in the posts he has filled during his long career.
"These statements [by Velayati] included many contradictions and exaggerations that we must focus on – not for the sake of argument, which is absolutely not our aim, but to clarify things in a way that will not do an injustice to anyone...
"First of all, in the matter of [Velayati's] statement that 'the government (of President) Bashar Al-Assad would have fallen in weeks without Iran's aid,' it may be necessary to remind some that the events in Syria began in March 2011, and that at that time the Syrians faced the fire of terrorism alone for over two years, until Hizbullah intervened alongside the Arab Syrian army to win the battle of Al-Qusayr [west of Homs province, near the Lebanon border] in 2013. During this time [2011-2013], not only were the Syrians sacrificing thousands of martyrs in defense of their country, but on the other side were [elements], among them also allies, who still did not believe the official Syrian version [of the reality of the crisis in the country]. Moreover, in the period before Hassan Rohani rose to the [Iranian] presidency in August 2013, Turkish-Iranian harmony prevailed, manifested in the term 'Islamic awakening' that was adopted by the previous Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"This 'official' Iranian approach was compatible with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood trend in the region. During the same period, the Turks also marketed the political Islam program, such that Iran and Turkey would be a model of the two sectarian branches [of Islam, i.e. Sunni and Shi'ite], by virtue of which the [Islamic] umma would awaken and be elevated... This is what caused them, together with the Qataris at that time, to submit some proposals to the Syrian leadership, including a request to allow the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists to participate in [Syria's] regular political life in exchange for [those countries'] promises to stop supporting and funding the media campaign against Syria. But the Syrian leadership chose the path of steadfastness, instead of wheeling and dealing over principles...
"Second, did Mr. Velayati plan [to say] that Iran defended the Syrian land and people, or that it defended what he referred to as 'the Assad government'? – because this term is not acceptable in diplomatic relations among allies. We do not call the executive authority in Syria 'the Assad government' but rather the 'Syrian government,' and when we talk about its upper echelon, we talk about 'the Syrian leadership'! Any well-informed person needs little commentary in order to understand that the goal of what happened and is still happening in Syria is ultimately to turn Syria's fall into the starting point of the fall of the rest of the dominos that must fall. This is because the defending Syria is defending Iran and Russia...
"Third, at the same lecture, Velayati referred to the Iranian presence in Syria as strictly 'military advisors.' It is strange to say that military advisors prevented the fall of two countries, since military advisors have theoretical roles concerning information, plans, and options, and nothing more – and ultimately the steadfastness is that of the one who survives the battle, of that fighter who takes his soul in his hand and throws it into the maw of death. An advisor cannot prevent defeat or complete a victory. It appears that this paradox damages the credibility of Velayati's statements. [If what he says is indeed true], then either the Iranian presence in Syria is equivalent to military divisions, motorized brigades, and mighty armies that begin in Iran and end in Damascus – and this is absolutely untrue – or his statements are accurate, but his identification of the elements of steadfastness was completely inaccurate.
"Certainly we have never been ungrateful. We are thankful that our friends and allies played supporting roles in boosting our steadfastness in all areas, and we will never forget a single drop of the blood that was spilled in defending Syria... But we grew up in the school of thought of the late Hafez Al-Assad, which is based on [this] moral axiom: If you defend your principles, or defend someone based on your principles, then you are doing your duty...
"In conclusion, Velayati is entitled to see his country as the axis of all the victories that have been achieved... but please, before anyone takes credit for Syria's not falling, ask the Syrians across their homeland to black out the pictures of our martyrs, which are scattered throughout the homes, so that we cannot see them. Only then will we believe that there is in this world someone who can take credit more than we can for Syria's not falling..
"In other words, I beg your pardon, Ali Akbar Velayati, but Syria is the last stronghold of truth. It will never fall until Allah will inherit this land and its inhabitants."
 Al-Watan (Syria), July 15, 2018.
 The Valdai Discussion Club was founded in 2004 as an annual discussion platform for Russian and foreign political analysts.
 The Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture and Religion – Promoting Intercultural Dialogue for Sustainable Development, held April 23-24, 2016 in Tehran was sponsored by UNEP, UNESCO, and the Department of Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.