August 10, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 871

Iran Launches Diplomatic Initiative Aimed At Preventing The Fall Of Assad's Regime, Collapse Of Entire Resistance Axis, And Regional War

August 10, 2012 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 871


In light of the escalation of the crisis in Syria, on August 9, 2012, Iran held an international conference aimed at preventing the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the collapse of the entire resistance axis that would inevitably follow. In Iran's eyes, the Syrian regime is the bulwark against a Sunni-Shi'ite war in the Middle East encompassing Syria, Lebanon and Iraq and others, which would have far-reaching ramifications for the survival of the Islamic regime in Iran itself.

Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, underlined this during his recent visit to China, when he said: "The West still striving to provoke the Iranian nation in order [to drag it into] the conflict that they anticipate among the countries of the region... It is not that we cannot respond to them in the same measure, but we know that such moves will lead to great fitna [i.e. civil war in the Middle East] and that by provoking the [Iranian] people, they want to bring Iran into conflict with the [Sunni Arab] countries of the region. The basis of Iranian foreign policy, according to [Supreme] Leader [Khamenei], focuses on directing the events in the region, so that this great fitna that the West wants to ignite will not take place. They aspire to bring about a situation in which under these sensitive conditions, we will throw caution to the winds, and respond as they want us to." [1]

Along with this initiative, Tehran is also working energetically vis-à-vis Turkey in order to ensure that it will not attack Syria from its shared border. To this end, Iran is apparently trying to consolidate a Kurdish front that will defend the Syrian border from any Turkish attack.

It should be noted that along with activity in the regional arena, Tehran is further entrenching the status of its regime at home. The sanctions imposed by the West, which are increasingly and severely impacting the lives of Iran's citizens and endangering the regime, have led the latter to take two main steps:

  • Attempting to prepare the public to weather the storm: While Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials make frequent mention of the need for the people to stand fast,[2] the government is stockpiling essential commodities.[3]
  • Deploying paramilitary Basij units, comprising tens of thousands of activists who have undergone operational training, to prevent any domestic uprising.[4]

The International Conference In Tehran To Save The Syrian Regime

On August 9, 2012, Iran held an international conference aimed at stopping the collapse of Assad's regime in Syria. The compromise that Iran is proposing to the international community is a "democratic solution," according to the "will of the people," by means of "holding general elections" and "a national dialogue." It should be noted that in an August 8, 2012 op-ed in The Washington Post, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stated that Iran would be willing to accept elections under "international supervision" in Syria; however, there was no mention of this willingness in the Iranian media.

In this context, Khamenei's associate Saeed Jalili, who is also Iran's nuclear chief and secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, was dispatched on August 7 to meet with Assad. The Iranian news agency Al-Alam reported that Assad said at the meeting that his government was determined to comply with the demands of the people in a democratic manner.[5]

Jalili also went to Lebanon and Iraq; in Lebanon, he warned President Michel Sleiman that the conflict in Syria must not boil over into Lebanon and spark civil war – meaning actions by other religious groups in Lebanon against the Shi'ite Hizbullah – in the event that the Syrian regime collapses.[6] In Iraq, he warned Parliamentary Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi, "The tribal and religious conflicts in Iraq are part of the enemy's plots aimed at undermining security [in the country] and preventing stability in the region. We must not be drawn into such conflicts, so as not to fall into the enemy's trap."[7]

Efforts To Consolidate An Iranian-Kurdish-Iraqi Front Against A Turkish Military Operation In Syria

According to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Jalili told Assad that as far as Iran was concerned, the crisis in Syria is a matter of Iranian national security, and when Assad said that he can deal with the attack on him within Syria, Jalili told him that Iran intends to prevent any Turkish military intervention in Syria.[8] The paper added that Jalili has gotten the Kurdish PKK groups to agree to restrict their activity to defending Syria's northern border from any attack by Turkey.

According to Iranian sources, the paper said, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi, who was in Turkey when Jalili was visiting Lebanon and Syria, had warned the Turks against undertaking any operation that would threaten Syria or the Syrian regime. He even hinted, said the paper, that members of the Turkish battalion in UNIFIL in Lebanon could be kidnapped, just as Lebanese citizens have been kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army.[9]

This followed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks on Turkey's AVT TV that the Turkish military is acting against the PKK, which he said was attempting to infiltrate into Turkey from Syria, with Assad's support, and to operate there. He clarified that three Turkish military units were conducting maneuvers on the Turkey-Syria border, and that they might launch a military operation in Syrian territory in order to fight the PKK. He added that the Turkish military would continue its military operation in northern Iraq against the PKK until the latter stopped operating there.[10]

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who also met with the Iranian emissary, said following the meeting that the PKK and the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party were oppressing the Syrian people together with the Syrian regime, and attempting to benefit from the current anarchy in the country. He added that they would try to do so whether the Syrian regime fell or remained in place, but would not succeed. He also said that the PKK that had moved to northern Syria and been armed by Assad constituted a threat to Turkey, and that Turkey would act as it saw fit in this matter.[11]

Iranian Efforts To Open Channels Of Communication With The West

Along with diplomatic efforts to prevent the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, Iran is also attempting to warm up its tense relations with the West, by opening the severed channels of communication.

In an attempt to reconcile with the U.K. and the E.U. following their harsh sanctions on Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the November 2011 attempt to take over the British Embassy in Tehran – an incident which led to the hardening of the European stance against Iran – as a "mistake." Khamenei made the remarks at an August 6 meeting with students, and tempered them by adding that it was however possible to understand the feelings of the protestors who attacked the embassy.[12]

Iran is also trying to bring the U.S. into the matter of the 48 Iranians who were kidnapped August 4 in Damascus; it is asking for U.S. as well as Turkish and Qatari intervention to obtain their release, while at the same time threatening to harm U.S. interests because, it says, the U.S. is responsible for their safety due to its collaboration with the Syrian opposition.[13]


This Iranian initiative does not propose any real solution for either the Syrian opposition or the West; for this reason, it will go nowhere.

It should be noted that the international conference was not attended by prominent representatives from the UN, Western countries, or the Syrian opposition; it was also boycotted by Sunni Arab countries.[14]

In our assessment, this initiative is a reflection of the difficulties faced by the Iranian regime at this time, as a result of the recent deterioration in the situation of its ally, the Syrian regime, following the August 6 defection of Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, the kidnapping of the 48 Iranians (who are presumably members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC[15]) in Damascus, and the resistance of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.

The initiative is also aimed at stopping the anticipated anti-Iran sentiment that is expected to emerge at the Organization of the Islamic Conference gathering in Saudi Arabia on August 14-15. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is invited to the meeting and has announced plans to attend.

Additionally, the Turkey-Iran tension in Syria could be a flashpoint for real conflict between Iran and Turkey; if that happens, the situation in the region could deteriorate into a general conflagration.

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project at MEMRI.


[1] Mehr (Iran), August 6, 2012.

[2] For instance, Khamenei said at the August 6 meeting with students that the aim of the sanctions is to topple the Iranian regime from within, and that this must be fought., August 6, 2012. On July 25, 2012, Khamenei told senior regime officials that they would continue in their path "with greater determination" despite the sanctions; Mehr, Iran, July 25, 2012. On July 11, 2012, at a conference in Tehran, Khamenei said that the sanctions would not stand in Tehran's way. Asr-e Iran, Iran, July 11, 2012. Tehran Friday preacher Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that the regime led by Khamenei would not abandon the public, and was working determinedly to solve the economic crisis. He also explained that the high cost of living was part of God's will and that the public must be frugal in light of the economic crisis, which he said was fundamentally an American plot to take over Iran. Fars, Iran, August 3, 2012. On July 23, 2012, the prosecutor-general of the city of Nishapour said about the protests over the high cost of poultry that the organizers had been identified by the regime, that patience was vital, and that the people had not launched the Islamic Revolution over trivial matters like bread and water. He warned against turning demonstrations into a campaign against the regime., July 23, 2012. In response to public complaints about the high cost of meat, due to the sanctions during Ramadan, Senior Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi said that eating large quantities of meat was not healthy anyway. ISNA, Iran, July 21, 2012.

[3] The deputy minister of industry said that on orders from President Ahmadinejad, the ministry had begun stockpiling basic commodities including wheat, rice, raw sugar, oil, and poultry, in quantities sufficient for at least the next three months for the entire country. At the same time, basic food commodities manufacturers were instructed to produce sufficient inventory for the needs of the market, importing products if necessary. Mehr, Iran, July 27, 2012.

[4] Deputy IRGC commander Hossein Salami said that the regime had set up Basij squads to defend "moral values," i.e. the regime, and that they would be activated when necessary. The IRGC forces commander for Tehran district, Mohsen Kazimini, said that in Tehran some 16,000 squads were operating, and that by next March this number would be increased to 21,000. Fars, Iran, August 3, 2012. IRGC commander Jafari said that the concrete threat today was internal, and the squads are ready to operate in the framework of a war against the regime, which requires forces that are loyal, revolutionary, and have high political awareness. Fars, Iran, August 3, 2012. Basij commander Jafari said that the real threat today was domestic, and that the squads are ready to act in response to the "war against the regime." Fars, Iran, August 2, 2012. Basij commander Naqdi said that the squads are currently about four million strong and meet on a weekly basis., August 5, 2012.

[5] (Iran), August 7, 2012.

[6] Fars (Iran), August 6, 2012. See for example statements by Majlis National Security Committee member Awaz Heidarpour, who protested against the July 29, 2012 beating of Shi'ites and Alawites in Lebanon by Salafi groups., July 30, 2012.

[7] Mehr (Iran), August 8, 2012.

[8] An article in the Iranian daily Resalat warned Turkey, a NATO member, against carrying out any military operation in Syria, whether by entering its airspace or any other means, and stressed that the reaction to such an operation would be a missile attack by Syria in Israel's strategic depth – that is, Tel Aviv. At the same time, hinting at a possible Hizbullah reaction against Israel, the article noted that Syrian, Lebanese, and Hamas territory were not Libya. Resalat, Iran, August 9, 2012.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), August 9, 2012.

[10] Cited by ISNA (Iran), August 7, 2012.

[11], August 9, 2012; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, August 10, 2012.

[12], August 6, 2012. It will be recalled that in recent weeks, criticism has been heard in Iran of the government's intention to reopen the British Embassy in Tehran, which was closed following the November attack.

[14] ISNA (Iran), August 8, 2012. Along with Kuwait, Lebanon also clarified that it would not be sending a representative to the conference. Al-Safir, Lebanon, August 7, 2012.

[15] Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi said that some of the Iranians kidnapped in Syria were retired IRGC and military personnel. ISNA, Iran, August 8, 2012.

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