February 15, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1464

Jordanian Columnist on the Possibility of a Split in the Iran-Syria Axis

February 15, 2007
Syria, Jordan, Iran | Special Dispatch No. 1464

In a February 8, 2007 article titled "The Tehran-Damascus Axis: Tactical Disagreements or the Beginning of a Split?" former Jordanian information minister Saleh Al-Qallab, currently a columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, said that the cooling in Iran-Syria relations may lead to the end of their partnership and even to intense hostility between the two countries, unless they manage to bridge over the differences in their priorities. He added that if Syria senses that Iran is planning to abandon it, it will hasten to give the U.S. everything it wants in return for guarantees regarding both the future of the Syrian regime and the international tribunal for the Al-Hariri assassination.

The following are excerpts from the article. [1]

"Recent Developments Have Led to a Conflict Between the Priorities of Damascus and Those of Tehran"

"...Recent developments have led to a conflict between the priorities of Damascus and those of Tehran. Damascus, which ascribes the utmost importance to [the issue of] the international tribunal [for the Al-Hariri assassination], regards the Iranian nuclear issue as less central, though not as an entirely secondary matter. Tehran, [on the other hand], gives top priority to the nuclear issue, and regards the international tribunal as a marginal question which must not cause an escalation in the Lebanese crisis or in the general tension that currently prevails in the region.

"This is the equation that has emerged: In light of the concentration of American [forces in the Gulf region] and the escalation in [America's] threats, Iran is unable to think of anything but the nuclear issue. Syria, [on the other hand], which is under steadily increasing pressure, can no longer think - and does not allow its allies to think - of anything except the international tribunal. [Syria] perceives [this issue] as a matter of life and death, and for its sake, it is willing to drown the Lebanese people in the Mediterranean Sea and to let Lebanon be consumed by the fire of civil war.

"This clash between the priorities of Tehran and those of Damascus is the reason for the statement made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem during his last visit to Tehran, which had seemed a bit strange at the time. Echoing the American position, Al-Mu'allem said that there is no hope of extricating Iraq from its [current] tragedy and of preserving its unity unless the ethnic militias are disbanded. [He said this] even though these militias are known to be Iran's political and military force in Iraq.

"At the time, during the initial stages of the Iranian-Saudi contacts - which are still continuing - Iranian Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani came to Damascus from Riyadh, [equipped] with suggestions approved by top Saudi officials regarding the calming of the escalating crisis in Lebanon. But Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad rejected these suggestions out of hand, because from the Syrian perspective, they do not guarantee proper handling of the international tribunal issue.

"Following this meeting... the Syrian president hurriedly sent his foreign minister to Tehran in order to investigate the new developments. But Walid Al-Mu'allem heard from his Iranian counterpart the very same things that [Al-Assad] had heard from Larijani, and that is why he made the statement quoted above, which greatly angered Iran... "

"The Cooling [of Relations Between Syria and Iran] is Serious… and Will Develop into a Split Unless Tehran Finds a Way to Bridge [the Difference] Between Its own Priorities and Those of Syria"

"The positions of Damascus and Tehran have diverged, if only slightly, and their [relations] have become thorny. This cooling [in the relations] is bound to increase greatly, and to become a raging storm that will blow through the 'tent of resistance' [i.e. the Syrian-Iranian camp], unless agents of goodwill manage to find a compromise that will protect the top priority of both Iran and of Syria.

"If the current efforts to prevent the explosion of the Iranian nuclear crisis are successful, and if the agents of goodwill manage to find common ground between Tehran and Washington while keeping the sword of the international tribunal suspended over Syria's neck, the [Syrian-Iranian partnership] will come to an end. There will also be significant changes in the regional balance of power - with respect to the Iraqi tragedy, to the Lebanese problem and to the Palestinian problem.

"The cooling [of relations between Syria and Iran] is serious, and is not just a tactical [maneuver]. It will develop into a split and into severe hostility, unless Tehran finds a way to bridge [the difference] between its own priorities and those of Syria. Damascus cannot remain calm and serene with the threat of the international tribunal hanging over its head. If the Syrians sense that Iran [plans to reach understandings regarding Lebanon] without them, they will hasten to give the Americans everything they want in return for guarantees regarding both the preservation of the Syrian regime and the international tribunal."

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 8, 2007.

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