Recently inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged this week to “stand by [the Bashar al-Assad regime] in facing all challenges,” adding fuel to a fiery debate raging in the foreign policy community over the degree to which the revolutionary cleric is willing or able to alter Iran’s confrontational posture toward the West.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran aims to strengthen its relations with Syria and will stand by it in facing all challenges”, SANA quoted Rouhani as saying in a report from Tehran. “The deep, strategic and historical relations between the people of Syria and Iran will not be shaken by any force in the world.”
Mark Dubowitz and Tony Badran – respectively the executive director of, and a researcher at, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – emphasized that Rouhani’s policy toward Syria “may be the real test of whether or not [he] has different intentions than his predecessor, as well as his capacity to implement a significant shift in Iranian foreign and national-security policy.” The president-elect’s public statements of support for the Assad regime suggest, according to the two, that he is “closely aligned with Khamenei” and that he harbors “a conspiratorial, anti-American, and anti-Israel worldview.”
Tehran is believed to have supplied Damascus with billions of dollars since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. It has also supplied weapons and troops, both directly from Iran and through its Lebanese Hezbollah proxy. Last month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari declared that his country has “neither the deterrent means, nor the air defenses and fighter jets to prevent… arms shipments” from Iran to Syria that travel through Iraqi airspace.
[Photo: AlJazeeraEnglish / YouTube]