The best description of Iran’s relationship with Syria, and the magnitude of Tehran’s loss if the tyrant of Damascus were to fall, was summed up by an Iranian cleric, Mehdi Taeb, a man tasked with combatting the soft war currently being directed against Iran. He said, “If we lose Syria we cannot maintain Tehran . . . But if we lose the province of Khuzestan [to the Al-Ahwaz Arabs] we could regain it as long as we keep Syria.”
Taeb not only said this, but also that “Syria is the 35th province and a strategic province for us. If we were to attack an enemy in order to keep Syria or Khuzestan, the priority would be to keep Syria.” In light of these statements, how can it be argued that what is happening in Syria is a sectarian war by proxy, or that the Syrian revolution is being orchestrated by extremists? The truth is that it is a revolution of the people who want to be free and rid themselves of the clutches of Iranian occupation, which has been a feature throughout the Assad era. These blunt statements, which seem to have been made as a result of the shock of what is happening on the ground in Syria, show the predicament of the Iranian project in the region, and not only in Syria. The fall of Assad would be the largest and most severe blow to be dealt to the Iranian project, and the concept of exporting the Khomeini revolution, and it would also mean that Iranian extremists would have to face up to the internal dues they have long evaded.
Remarkably, Taeb not only illustrated the importance of Syria for his country; he went further than that and spoke openly about the 60,000-strong forces overseen by Iran in Syria, saying, “The Syrian regime has an army, but it lacks the ability to conduct a war in Syrian cities. Therefore the Iranian government proposed to formulate an urban warfare force, consisting of 60,000 combat troops, to take over the war on the streets from the Syrian army.” This figure exceeds what was revealed recently about the number of troops supervised by Iran in Syria, which was said to have been closer to 50,000, and thus Taeb’s statements not only reveal the importance of Syria to Iran, they also reveal the extent of Iranian involvement in the Syrian bloodshed. Furthermore, they tell us that if we do not deal with the Syrian issue seriously, with international efforts, then this Iranian interference will pass by unchecked, and this means more extremism and sectarian conflict in the future, and this is a danger to the region as a whole.
These Iranian statements and others must not lead us to the conclusion that Iran should be given an official role in Syria, rather they should lead to international action to overthrow Bashar Assad and bring about his inevitable downfall, striking the Iranian expansionist project in the region. It is no exaggeration to say that the fall of Assad will serve as the first serious step towards halting Iran’s nuclear project. The fall of Assad does not necessarily mean the fall of Iran, but it means the Mullahs would return to their natural borders within Tehran, and this is what we need. Then the extremists of Iran will have to face their dues in the Iranian domestic scene, but that is their story. Our story is about a region that has been stricken by Iran and its interventions, its fifth column operating among us, and its men deployed in Syria who will remain silent as usual and not say a word about the Mehdi Taeb’s remarks.