Since Saudi Arabia opted out of the most recent, short-lived joint initiative for Syria, (DW 674 of Aug. 14: Iran Puts Moscow & Iran at Helm of Next ME Venture), the Islamic Republic of Iran has grabbed the crown of self-styled regional leader, with the Obama administration’s blessing. It is stealing a march on everyone else, especially now with a solo plan for ending the brutal Syrian war, now in its fifth year with 250,000 dead and many millions homeless.
Tehran’s first decision, as revealed by DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources, was to sideline the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and corner him into accepting Iran’s dictate on when and how to step down.
Its second was to co-opt Turkey in a limited ad hoc capacity.
The US and Russia were effectively dropped by the wayside after Riyadh refused to play.
Meanwhile, embroiled in three active wars, Iranian intelligence was getting in over its head for keeping up with the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq and a handle on the political changes and currents swirling around the region.
For some back-up, Tehran invited Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan to take part in its Syrian initiative – starting with intelligence-sharing.
The Turkish intelligence link yields contacts with Syrian rebels
This move went forward smoothly, even though Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called off a visit to Ankara for talks with his opposite number Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the pretext of “a scheduling conflict.”
By then, Iran was busy working the Turkish intelligence mine. On Erdogan’s orders, Fidan Hakan’s Turkish National Intelligence Organization – MIT was feeding Tehran a steady stream of intelligence data and contacts.
The Turkish connection quickly yielded results: Iranian emissaries were able to reach and talk terms with some of the Syrian rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, without letting the Syrian ruler or Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah into their secret scheme.
Their most important connection was established last week with Ahrar al-Sham, a group of multiple Sunni Islamist and Salafi militias fighting the Assad regime and Hizballah.
This mixed group fields 20,000 fighters, making it one of the three top anti-government legions in the field, after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the Nusra Front.
Iran’s extravagant offers to win over Saudis, Jordanians and Turks
Iranian emissaries and Ahrar al-Sham’s leader, Hashem al-Sheikh Abu Jaber, quickly agreed on a brief ceasefire in the battle for Zabadani, drawn out by the Syrian-Hizballah offensive’s failure to dislodge rebels from this strategic town, which sits athwart the Damascus-Beirut highway. The ceasefire went into force Wednesday, Aug. 12, allowing Hizballah forces to fall back, and collapsed Saturday.
Meanwhile, according to our sources, Tehran was off and running on a drive to enlist regional partners to its plan for terminating the Syrian war – at least as passive observers.
Substantial incentives were offered:
Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese Sunni factions it backs were promised that Hizballah would abandon its two-year opposition to the election of a new president, a standoff which has seriously disrupted the functioning of government in Beirut.
Syrian Kurdish autonomy bid to be crushed
Jordan’s King Abdullah II was offered invaluable antidotes for two acute headaches:
1. An Iranian elite Al Qods Brigades unit, aided by Iraqi Shiite militias, would be sent to regain Al-Tanf, the only border terminal between Syria and Iraq, which ISIS snatched from Syrian forces on May 22.
Expelling ISIS from this strategic point, DEBKA Weekly reports, would cut the Islamic Caliphate’s only supply route for fighters and military supplies to flow between its Syrian (Raqqa) and Iraqi (Mosul) headquarters. It would also block ISIS access to the western Iraqi province of Anbar. This would relieve the Jordanian commandos fighting ISIS 200km deep inside Anbar since last month of a major threat.
(See DW of July 31: Jordanian troops in Iraq for first real Seek-and-Destroy mission against ISIS).
2. Iran is also offering to make its officers in Syria guardians of Jordan’s northern border with southern Syria and charge them with warding off would-be aggressors, including the Islamic State.
Tehran also offered Turkey, as bait for further commitment to the Iranian venture over and above intelligence-sharing, to “take care” of the separatist Syrian Kurdish YPG. Iran would use military and other means to force the Syrian Kurds to drop their campaign for autonomy in the territory abutting the Turkish border.
This guarantee contradicted another Kurdish move by Iran with regard to the PKK (See separate article.)
Iran’s Syria peace plan is ready for tabling at the UN
Tehran is in a hurry to resolve the Syrian conflict, so much so that it is dangling before Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey hopefully irresistible enticements for easing their most pressing security problems, provided only that they refrain from interfering in Iran’s peace plan for Syria.
The ayatollahs need to move fast, because Assad’s army and allied Hizballah forces are stalled militarily against insurgent forces – and even more so against the Islamic State. His regime could buckle at any moment without warning, plunging Syria into deep turmoil out of Tehran’s control.
Iran proposes to submit its four-point Syrian peace plan to the UN General Assembly next month. According to our sources, it will be built around a national unity government – code for Bashar Assad staying in power for the time being; elections under international supervision; prominent representation in the regime for “moderate” opposition parties; and reforms which also protect minorities.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that, given Iran’s record of disruption, religious mayhem and terror-mongering in the region – and far from thrilling military performance in Iraq and Syria – Riyadh, Amman, Beirut and Ankara are thinking hard before buying the merchandise on offer from Tehran.