Last week, the city of al-Qusair fell to forces sent in by Hezbollah, the long arm of Tehran, which was called into Syria to try to save what Tehran has referred to as “the golden link” in the anti-Israel resistance front – the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Iranian speakers have stressed before that Syria is even more important than Khuzestan Province (large Arab minority), and one of the reformist presidential hopefuls even emphasized the importance and position of Syria in Iran’s national security strategy, when he said that the war being waged (by the West and the Gulf states) against Syria is the start of a bigger battle against Iran and Hezbollah. “Confronting Syria is the beginning of confronting Hezbollah, and next is Iran. If we don’t stand with Syria, we will not be able to govern.”
Al-Qusair is a strategic city that connects the capital of Damascus with Assad’s Alawite heartland on the Mediterranean, and as a result allows Assad to attempt to change the direction of fighting in Syria. While the victory on Syrian land is a Syrian victory, the importance of the struggle in Syria extended beyond the Syrian playing field long ago. Syria has become a microcosm of sorts of the regional and international changes. As such, the victory in al-Qusair is primarily a victory for Iran (the patron of the forces that liberated al-Qusair) and Russia (for its naval facility in Tartus), who have been steadfast in their support of Bashar against the hesitant West.
A variety of Iranian speakers, including IRGC commanders, lauded Hezbollah’s victory. They underscored that anyone who thought that Damascus was the weak link in the “chain of resistance” against Israel and the West was “surprised and humiliated,” as the Syrian (Hezbollah) struggle derives its inspiration from the revolution in Iran.
The Iranian leadership and media have taken a consistent line in their messages: Syria is facing an “Arab-Western plot,” in which Sunni “terrorists” and “al-Qaeda operatives” are being sent to Syria to bring down Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Most of the criticism is directed against the Gulf states, which Iran maintains are trying to weaken Shiite Iran’s influence in the region. An editorial published by Fars News, which is affiliated with the IRGC, even claimed that “the Syrian army’s victory in al-Qusair is the most important victory by Hezbollah since the 33-Day War (Second Lebanon War) and even more important than it. The author purports, “The enemies of the Resistance Front planned on operating from al-Qusair to launch an extensive attack against Hezbollah in Bekaa, Baalbek and Dahiyeh (Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut) in order to involve Hezbollah and the Resistance Front (Syria) in a difficult internal war.
Following the “liberation of al-Qusair,” Yaha Rahim Safavi, senior advisor to the Supreme Leader for military affairs and a former IRGC Commander, shed some light on the strategy and geostrategic perceptions that guide Iran. Safavi added that the US, the Zionist regime (Israel) and several Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, who take orders from the US, failed in their attempts to create a fake model of Islamic Awakening (the Iranian term for the Arab Spring) in Syria. According to him, the Supreme Leader’s strategic policy regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have transformed Iran in a regional powerhouse in Western Asia, and the Americans and Zionists (Israel) and some Arab countries are very upset by this, as it proves the failure of (President) Obama’s policy in the region. Safavi emphasized that the strategic axis between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is the Mediterranean axis and added that to date, Iran (the Persian Empire) has on several occasions achieved influence up to the Mediterranean Sea, once during the era of Cyrus the Great when Jerusalem was liberated and the second time during the period of Xerxes when they crossed the Bosporus Strait and moved in the direction of Greece. The third time is now.
The battle for Syria is not over yet, but it currently seems that the US allies in the region, Turkey (a member of NATO) and the Gulf states (who helped the rebels in Syria) have retreated in defeat. The United States (“Assad must go”; “chemical weapons red line”) continues to stand on the sidelines and show minimal involvement, see how Iran (and Russia) have stepped in to help its strategic ally in its time of need, in an attempt to reshape the Middle East, which is in the midst of what the West chooses to call “the Arab Spring.” Iran, in contrast, chose the term “Islamic Awakening” and operates through Hezbollah to translate its vision into reality.