Iran and post-al-Assad

Iran and post-al-Assad

Almost a year ago, we raised the question of what would have happened had Iran not supported the Baathist regime in Syria. Answers to this question then indicated that positive winds would blow into our region from the political, cultural, and geopolitical directions. Yes, had Iran not supported al-Assad, all issues, from sectarianism to the bloodshed in Syria, from Israel to the Saudi administration’s stance, from the “Arab Spring” to American attitudes in the region would have yielded more positive consequences for the peoples of the region. Unfortunately, it was not so. Iran has forsaken becoming a determinative or order-making actor in the region to support the ideological cousin of the Baathist regime with which it fought the longest war of the 20th century. This trade-off has resulted in a difficult situation to resolve, both for Iran and for the region.

Iran, just like Russia, is facing a bigger problem than a Syria with al-Assad: What will they do in a Syria without al-Assad? The quality of the answer Russia gives to this question will not change the exaggerated geopolitical position Russia held while al-Assad was in power in Syria. In the final analysis, Russia will be as great a determining factor in Middle East and eastern Mediterranean geopolitics in a scenario without al-Assad as it has been for the last forty years. No big deal for Russia!

The situation is different for Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which came to power via the people’s revolution, has lost a lot of ground due to its stance on the Syrian movement. It is now time to raise a new question: What can Iran do to bind its wounds post al-Assad? Unfortunately there is no good answer Iran can give to this question in the short term. However, Iran still has the opportunity to make a sharp U-turn during the post-al-Assad period, and become a strong and determinative actor in the region.

Just four days ago high-level Iranian decision makers visited the Baathist regime, which even Russia is hesitant to visit at this stage in the game. It is clear that the Iranian political actors cannot read developments in the region accurately, because they did not hesitate to pose for pictures alongside members of the Baathist regime, which has no friends left other than Russia since it has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians.

Iran has to change its perspective on the region if it really wants to become a determining factor in the region post-al-Assad. It will not be enough for it to take a stance against Israel’s comfortable enemy, the Syrian Baathist regime. Iran must understand that it still has a great opportunity in front of it, even this late in the game. The Iranian administration must immediately change the difficult or impossible relationships it forged over Syria. A Syria without al-Assad presents a way out for Iran — which wants to forge healthy relationships with Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and to become a determining factor in Lebanese and Iraqi politics, and to develop a strategic relationship with Turkey — from being ironically labeled a sectarian Baathist supporter. A step away from this label benefits not only Iran but also the region. It is only then that the legitimacy of and popular support for the Islamic Revolution of Iran will not be questioned. The Islamic Revolution of Iran, which mobilized the biggest revolution of the 20th century against the Shah, in the shadow of the U.S. and Israel, shall not be lost in the bloodshed committed by the Syrian Baathist regime.