December 24, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 5104

Former Iranian Diplomat: The Iranian Regime's Pro-Assad Stance Is Likely To Harm It

December 24, 2012
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 5104

In a recent article, Mohammad Ali Sobhani, who served as Iran's ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan under president Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005), wrote that the Iranian regime's unwavering support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad[1] was causing it considerable damage in the Arab and Muslim world.

The article, which was posted December 11, 2012 on the Iran Diplomacy website and republished two days later as the editorial of the moderate-conservative daily Ebtekar, also warned that the Syrian crisis could spill over to Lebanon and ignite a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict there that might harm Hizbullah and Iran's interests. Arguing that "the ouster of President Assad would not be the end of the world [for Iran] and would not [mean] the collapse of the resistance camp," Sobhani advised the Iranian regime to follow the example of Hamas and renounce Assad.

It should be mentioned that Sobhani, who is essentially a supporter of the Iranian regime, is one of the last remnants of the reformist camp within the regime. His statements constitute open criticism of Tehran's unwavering pro-Assad policy, and warn of the possible consequences of pursuing it.[2] While he has voiced this criticism several times in the last few months, stating that Assad is no longer a legitimate ruler,[3] his statements are published only in a few reformist forums.

The following are excerpts from Sobhani's article:[4]

"The Rebels Grow Stronger By The Day, While Assad's Chances Of Retaining His [Role] In Syria Grow Slimmer"

"The battles [in Syria], and the political changes in the region and the international arena, show that the Syrian crisis has reached its final stage... The full complement of changes in the last few months indicates that the opposition forces [in Syria] have improved their position both on the battlefield and on the international front. This has eliminated the possibility of a political reconciliation between the Syrian regime and the opposition.

"[Moreover,] though we have yet to see any change in the Russian position on Syria, the tripartite meeting on Syria between the Russian foreign minister, his American counterpart, and UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi strengthened the possibility that Russia will [eventually] agree to a mechanism for changing the situation in Syria – especially considering that the rebels grow stronger by the day, while Assad's chances of retaining his [role] in Syria grow slimmer...

"Thus, contrary to Iran's and Russia's belief that the Syrian crisis might be resolved by political means and through a compromise between the regime and its opponents, it is becoming increasingly [clear] that Syria's future will be decided by military means. Although the judicial impasse at the [U.N.] Security Council prevents a repeat of the Libyan scenario in Syria, the militarization of the crisis is becoming more blatant every day, due to the arming of the rebels."

"The Ouster Of President Assad Would Not Be The End Of The World And Would Not [Mean] The Collapse Of The Resistance Camp"

"This situation may pose grave danger to the region. Syria is capable of causing the fighting to spill over into Lebanon, among other things, and in recent days we have even seen examples of this. Iran and Hizbullah know what negative long-term implications such a move could have. Hence, though Iran initially supported Bashar Assad without apprehension, it has [also] realized that it must not transform the issue into an ongoing [conflict] between the Shi'ites and Sunnis, which would end badly for Hizbullah in Lebanon...

"We must not forget that Iran is the strongest country in the region and in the Islamic world, which no Muslim country can ignore, [and that] Hizbullah is a stable force among the resistance forces. [As for] Syria, it will retain its anti-Israel stance whatever happens, and will need its reciprocal relations with [Iran and Hizbullah,] the two major forces in the resistance camp. [Therefore,] Iran must adjust itself to the new circumstances in Syria, and realize that the ouster of President Assad would not be the end of the world and would not [mean] the collapse of the resistance camp..."

"Iran Should Consider The Change That Hamas... Has Made In Its Stance Towards Syria"

"Iran's initial policy of explicit and unreserved support for President Bashar Al-Assad, and of calling his opponents 'terrorists,' was mistaken and dealt a blow to its revolutionary foreign policy in the region. It caused the Syrian people, and the [other] Arab and Muslim nations, to seriously doubt its support for the freedom-seeking movements in the region.

"Iran should consider the change that Hamas, another arm in the resistance camp, has made in its stance towards Syria. Perhaps the right course of action for Iran – considering that Assad refuses to heed its advice to enact reforms – would be to declare that the Syrian regime's years-long support of the resistance, and the good reputation it has gained by struggling against the occupier [Israel] and by supporting the Palestinian people, do not give it the right to commit crimes against its people and the opposition within [Syria]..."


[1] Tehran's stance on the Syrian crisis has been one of consistent and unreserved support for the Syrian president and his regime. On November 19, 2012, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei defended Assad by stating that "any government would naturally come out against an opposition that received arms from outside the country." Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on December 15, 2012: "Foreign forces are making every effort to change the regime in Syria, and their efforts have now reached a peak, but we are making every effort and using every means at our disposal to prevent this [from happening]... Iran will never allow the implementation of any Western plan to oust Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad by violent means, whether it be by… [supplying] weapons and hiring armed groups, or through direct [foreign] intervention." ISNA, Iran, December 15, 2012.

[2] Abbas Abdi is another prominent figure who has recently criticized the regime's Syrian policy. In an article in the daily Etemad, he wrote that Tehran's stubborn position on the Syrian crisis has caused its status in the Arab world to suffer, and yet has not prevented Assad's ouster. Etemad (Iran), December 22, 2012.

[3] Sobhani wrote as early as July 17, 2011 that the trust between the Syrian regime and the Syrian people had collapsed, and that it was difficult to feel optimistic about the national dialogue in Syria, especially since the opposition's participation in it was meager. In a February 6, 2012 article on the Iran Diplomacy website, he assessed that Assad would be ousted. In a July 2, 2012 interview with the Khabar Online website, he said that Iran's approach to Syria was mistaken, since while the entire world was rallying in opposition to the Syrian regime and accusing it of crimes against humanity, Iran was taking the opposite stance and defending it. He added that the Iranian regime had a religious, moral and political duty to change its stance vis-à-vis Assad, because the Syrian president would never regain his former status; in the best-case scenario he would be ousted and replaced by another 'Alawite.

[4], December 11, 2012; Ebtekar (Iran), December 13, 2012.

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