Tehran Bureau: This week’s statement by the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, that his country’s armed forces are preparing for a strike on Syria appears to have produced a marked shift in the public position taken by the Iranian leadership on Tehran’s primary Middle Eastern ally.
Early this year, Ali Akbar Velayati, the top international affairs adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said of Syria’s embattled president: “Bashar al-Assad is our red line and we will support him to the end.” Three weeks ago, the conservative Alef website featured a letter from Assad that was hand delivered to Khamenei, which read: “With the support of steadfast, visionary and strong allies like Iran we are certain of victory.”
On Wednesday, however, in his first meeting with President Hassan Rouhani’s new cabinet, Khamenei limited himself to expressing Iran’s strong kinship with Syria and characterising a potential western attack as “a certain catastrophe”. Avoiding any pledge of specific support, he raised his palms in prayer, saying: “I hope merciful God protects this region from the menace of America and Zionism and other evils.”
Khamenei’s silence about defending Assad was underscored by a subsequent report from the semi-official Fars news agency on a speech delivered by General Mohammad Ali Jafari, chief of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. In extensive excerpts of his address to a conference of ground force commanders, there was not a single word about Syria.
A year ago, by contrast, Colonel Mohammad Ali Asoodi, the head of the guards’ culture and propaganda office, said: “If America attacks Syria, Iran, along with Syrian allies will go into action.”
The tone of General Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief-of-staff of Iran’s armed forces, took a particularly noticeable turn this week.
On Sunday, he had threatened: “The United States is aware of the red zone of the Syrian front and any violation of the Syrian red line will have serious consequences for the White House,” including revenge by multiple nations.
Three days later, however, he said little more than that an internationalised war would be a net loss to Israel. Like Khamenei, the only intervention he invoked was divine. “God willing, the flames of this conflagration will set Zionism’s robe ablaze,” he said.
He refrained from making any threats towards the US, and settled for offering advice: “The Americans should rid themselves of this arrogant self-assuredness and if they have any resources, spend them on saving the American people.” [Continue reading…]
EA WorldView adds: In contrast to days of heated propaganda from Iran, warning that airstrikes on Syria will bring “fire” upon Israel and lead to defeat for the US and its allies, President Rouhani continues to avoid the rhetoric of confrontation while warning against military intervention.
The President’s office said via Twitter that Rouhani had agreed with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that “any use of military force against another country without a UN mandate was a blatant violation of international law” and that the Syrian conflict can “be resolved only through diplomatic means”. The office emphasized the warning that US-led airstrikes “could destabilize entire region, breeding extremism and terrorism” with the hashtag “#prudence”.
Rouhani’s mentor, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, bolstered the line on Thursday by urging “leaders of powerful countries” to resolve the situation with dialogue, rather than military force.