As pressure grows on Syrian president Bashar Assad to step down, Iran’s Deputy
Foreign Minister for Arab and African Countries, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian,
headed to Moscow on Monday to discuss the crisis with his Russian counterpart
Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Russia comes on another day
of intense fighting across Syria.
Assad’s staunchest allies, Moscow and
Tehran, have backed his regime since the fighting began over 21 months
Although there are signs that Syria’s rebels are gaining ground,
Tehran has not wavered in its support for Assad. On Sunday, Iran set out a
six-point plan to resolve the Syrian crisis, while its Foreign Minister Ali
Akbar Salehi said Tehran would “never allow a Western plot to forcibly topple
Assad to be implemented.”
However, in recent days Moscow has given signs
that it no longer believes Assad will survive. Bogdanov, who is also the
Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, sparked global speculation last
week when he was quoted as saying the Syrian government was “losing control of
more and more territory” and that the “victory of the Syrian opposition cannot
be ruled out.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry rushed to play down Bogdanov’s
statement, saying that Moscow had “never changed its position” on Syria, but not
before the US said his comments showed that the Russian government was “finally
waking up to the reality” that Assad’s days were numbered.
has arms contracts with Assad worth billions of dollars, has been Syria’s main
weapons supplier since the days of the USSR. However, if Assad falls, Russia
stands to lose more than just its arms sales.
If Assad is ousted, Russia
could lose its naval base at Tartus, its only military port outside the
territory of the former Soviet Union. While Tartus has no command and control
facility, meaning Russia cannot conduct military operations out of the port, it
is politically significant because it acts as a regional foothold for Moscow.
Russia also fears that if Assad falls, he could be replaced by radical Islamists
who would threaten Russia’s national security.
Iran has an even greater
stake in Syria, for if Assad falls and his Alawite regime is replaced by a
Sunni-dominated coalition, Tehran’s strategic reach in the region will
Intelligence officials believe Tehran has used its Qods Force,
the elite extraterritorial unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to
provide significant assistance to Assad – including weapons, military training,
electronic surveillance equipment and intelligence.
While Iran continues
to stress, at least outwardly, that Assad will not be ousted, there are also
signs that Tehran is planning for a potential loss in Syria by cultivating other
axes of influence, including in Iraq.
Iran has shown signs that it is
exerting more influence over Iraq, whose airspace it has used to ship military
equipment to Syria. Iraqi and US intelligence officials also believe that Iran
and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah give financial and military support to the
Shi’ite terror group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which is responsible for over 6,000
attacks against US troops.
Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal quoted unnamed
political sources on Monday as saying that during a visit to Baghdad,
Ahmadinejad may present a plan to partition Syria into two by deploying