Syria-Iran, a history of effective cooperation?

Postat in Sep 19 2014 - 9:34pm by Alexandra Galan
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“What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue, but a conflict between the axis of resistance and its enemies in the region and the world. Iran will not tolerate, in any form, the breaking of the axis of resistance, of which Syria is an intrinsic part.”[1]

 

With the rise of a new and relentless American strategy of “degrade and destroy” of the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria, it is important to see who else is supporting Syria, and most important, why.

This paper proposes a new hypothesis: the security cooperation between Syria and Iran is not based on a formal military pact, but on a series of informal security arrangements.

As Charles W. Kegley and Eugene R. Wittkopf argue, “alliances usually form when two or more states face a common security threat. They are formal agreements among states to coordinate their behavior.”[2]

For more than three decades now, the Tehran-Damascus axis has pursued a strong military and economical cooperation.[3] In the light of the recently events from Middle East, I will argue why the cooperation between this two countries don’t rely on a formal alliance, but rather on an informal security arrangement, or ad hoc[4] arrangement, based on tacit agreements and a long history of good relations.

 

Firstly, the alliance was and still is misunderstood by many political researchers[5], especially because they don’t take into consideration the religious aspects of this cooperation.

Secondly, this relationship has proven to be an enduring one, since it has lasted over thirty years now.

From 1979 to 2009, there were always two conflicting blocks in the Middle East. In the 1980s, the two conflicting blocks were the Syria-Iran-Libya axis and the Iraq-Saudi-Jordan axis, and since 1990, the two conflicting blocs were the Syria-Iran block and the Israel-Turkey axis.[6]  The alliance has had a significant impact on Middle Eastern politics over the past three decades starting with the 2003 Iraq war, the 2006 Lebanon war and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah movement, followed by the Syrian uprising and the Iranian support to the Assad regime since March 2011.[7]

The first part analyzes the role of the religious factor in the cooperation between Syria and Iran and the cohesion of their alliance—for example the affiliations of the Alawite community to the Shi’a movement.

Syria’s Al-Assad regime is the first expression of the recognition by leading powers that global governance needs to adapt to the new landscape of undergone conflicts. In other words, the Assad regime is a first of its kind because of its permanence despite the civil war .The Security Council and the global powers are coming to terms with a harsh reality. Despite the multiple attempts of the international community to end this bloodshed, it seems that they couldn’t find a proper solution until recently, and this is because Syria is quite different from the other Middle East countries that encountered such an unlucky outcome. These trends have been associated with the failure of world politics to analyze the emergence of the partnership between Syria and Iran, as well as the recognition of increasing interdependence among Al-Assad and Ahmadinejad.

iran-syria-map

               Nevertheless, the cooperation between Iran and Syria can also be regarded as a defining moment in the evolution of diplomatic relations towards more informal cooperation frameworks. In this sense, it is important to remember that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme leader of Iran, decreed by a “fatwa”[8] that the Alawites[9] are real Muslims. In Syria, the Alawites are about 2 million (10-15 % of the total Syrian population) and they are concentrated in the Northwestern region around Latakia and Tartus (Russian military and naval bases). This religious minority has provided Syria’s rulers since 1970. Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad, in power from 1970 to 2000, as well as Syria’s leading military and security chiefs were of Alawi origin. This is a common element in both regimes.

While the NAM Summit[10] (the Non-Aligned Movement which was held in Tehran from August 26 to 31, 2012) was usually ignored by the Western powers, not only the UN Security Council, but also some of its participants, expected two years ago that this summit gathering 120 countries would be able to draw up a new peace resolution in order to solve the crisis in Syria. The Non-Aligned Movement represents practically two-thirds of UN member states. For almost a week Tehran was a key center of the world alongside the offices of the UN in New York City and Geneva. Iran was the venue for one of the largest international gatherings of world leaders. The organization of such an event in Tehran demonstrates that Iran is definitely not isolated in the international system.

It is no wonder why Iran is today the most important and reliable support for Syria, since Syria supported Iran in its war against Iraq by transferring arms from the former Soviet Union to Tehran and by supporting the Iraqi Kurdish independence movement.[11]

Because of their mutual ability over time to assess the regional situation and its evolution, to set feasible goals, but also because they often shared common security interests, Damascus and Tehran understood that together, they were safer and stronger. Their synergy actually illustrates the principle of mutual assistance.

As Hans J. Morgenthau points out in his important work Politics Among Nations, not all countries, throughout history, have been willing to list the content of their security cooperation in detail and turn it into legal and binding alliance treaties.[12] In the past three decades, Syria and Iran have engaged in broad security cooperation, which is mainly in their diplomatic practice. This cooperation is based on informal security arrangements, such as joint communiqués and informal treaties.[13]

There is no doubt that the current Syrian revolution is the greatest challenge facing the thirty-year-old Syrian-Iranian alliance. If the Assad regime is overthrown, it would be a major setback for Iran.

peace-and-stability-in-syria

[1] Saeed Jalili, Head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, 6 September 2012

[2] Charles W. KEGLEY Jr. and Eugene R. WITTKOPF, World Politics: Trend and Transformation, New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004, p. 534.

[3] Iti is a proof of an amazing strategic thinking from all points of view that the pan-Islamic theocracy such as Iran could ally itself with a secular, pan-Arab, socialist republic like Syria.

Yair HIRSCHFELD, “The Odd Couple: Ba’thist Syria and Khomeini’s Iran,” Syria Under Assad: Domestic Constraints and Regional Risks, ed. Avner Yaniv and Moshe Ma’oz , New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986, p. 105

Shireen T. HUNTER, “Syrian-Iranian Relations: An Alliance of Convenience or More?” Middle East Insight, June/July 1985, pp. 30-31

[4] Degang SUN, “Brothers Indeed: Syria-Iran Quasi-alliance Revisited”, Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (in Asia) Vol. 3, No. 2, 2009, p 68;

 

[5] DEEB Marius, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War on Lebano, Stanford, California : Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2013.

 

[6] SUN, 2009, op. cit. ,p 69

[7] Jubin M. GOODARZI, “Syria and Iran: Alliance Cooperation in a Changing Regional Environment”, Ortadoğu Etütleri, Volume 4, No 2, January 2013, pp.31-54.

[8] “Not to the east, not west, as long as the Islamic”

[9] “It is generally thought that the Alawites (formerly called Nusairians) trace their origins back to the theologian Muhammad Ibn Nusair (around 883). His teaching led to the founding of a new sect and a consequent splitting from Ismailism, a branch of Shi‘a Islam. Alawite doctrines are not written down, but rather they are handed down as secrets by the religious leaders. The Alawite faith is a secret religion even today. Alawites do not have mosques, only devotional rooms. They disapprove of Islamic religious duties (the “Five Pillars”: praying five times, fasting during Ramadan, etc), but under persecution they sometimes practise them to protect themselves”. – available online at : http://www.30-days.net/muslims/muslims-in/mid-near-east/syria-alawites/

[10] The movement was founded in 1961. The Chinese, which have the status of observers in the NAM, was present, Russia, which is not part of the NAM, have been invited as Iran’s special guests and was represented by Konstantin Shuvalov, Russian ambassador and Vladimir Putin.

[11] Bahgat KORANYand Ali E. Hillal DESSOUKI, The Foreign Policies of Arab States: The Challenge of Change ,Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991, p.384

[12] Hans J. MORGENTHAU and KennethW. THOMPSON, Politics among Nations, Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, p. 203.

[13] SUN, 2009, op. cit., p 79.

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