This week the Islamic Republic of Iran made a blunt statement, reiterating its position in relation to the on-going conflict in Syria.
According to Saeed Jalili, a senior advisor to the Iranian Supreme Leader, the escalating conflict in Syria is not due to internal factors; the conflict is a result of an orchestrated campaign by the United States and its regional allies to topple Bashar al-Assad.
Jalili made this point while visiting Damascus. He went on to say that Syria and Iran constitute an “axis of resistance” against Israel and the United States, pledging to help Al-Assad crush his opponents.
Iran’s commitment to the Assad regime was demonstrated earlier when a group of Iranians were detained by the rebels in Syria. Iran denied that they were involved in military espionage, claiming they were retired members of the Revolutionary Guards on a pilgrimage. This is a highly dubious claim.
The world changing around Iran
The problem for the Islamic regime in Iran is that its world-view has been knocked out by the Arab revolutions. Since its inception in 1979, the Islamic regime presented itself as the true champion of the downtrodden Muslims in the Middle East.
It forecast popular uprisings in the region and the fall of incumbent regimes friendly to the United States. Iran paid a heavy price for its undiplomatic attitude towards its neighbours. Arab states in the Persian Gulf were annoyed and worried about the outlandish declarations of the Islamic regime in Iran following its establishment.
Against this background, the Iraqi push into Iran in 1980 galvanised support among the Arab ruling elite, which in turn reinforced Iran’s unfaltering view of its neighbours. But this view was put under serious strain during the Arab revolution.
In its initial phase, the Arab revolution appeared to follow the Iranian script. Two pro-Western governments in Tunisia and Egypt were brought down by popular uprisings. The Iranian leadership was quick to claim credit by suggesting that the Arabs were finally following the Iranian model. This claim was of course rejected in Tunisia and Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood which has now become the key political player in the post-Mubarak era has been adamant to emphasise its rejection of the Iran model.
Indeed Islamism was conspicuous by its absence in the Arab revolution; the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood itself is a rather a post-revolution experience.
Soon other holes started appearing in the Iranian narrative of the Arab revolution. Libya and Syria were engulfed in the same social upheavals that had challenged the status quo.
The spread of the revolution to Syria has been particularly challenging for the Islamic regime in Iran for a number of inter-related reasons.
In the Iranian version of history, Syria should have been immune to popular uprising. Syria’s history of war with Israel and its confrontational relationship with the United States should have saved the Assad regime and put it on the right side of history.