Tehran is going full tilt ahead with its single-handed drive for ending the Syrian conflict, after giving up on US and Russian partners in a combined effort (as DEBKA Weekly reported on Aug. 21: Tehran Goes Solo on Syria). This week, Iranian officials put two alternative schemes before Western and Arab counterparts in closed-door meetings. Both hinged on international peace conferences, to be held in camera or openly, which were labeled: Formula 6+1 and Formula 5:2.
Formula 6+1 would bring the six Gulf Cooperation Council’s members and Iran together for a parley to proceed under two ground rules:
1. The participants must pledge to keep talking until they close a deal.
2. They must all suspend military, financial and economic assistance to their Syrian proxies for the duration of the talks: This would apply equally to Iran’s flow of cash and arms to the Assad regime and army, and GCC members’ aid to the trained fighters of the various rebel militias.
Tehran pushes its Syrian agenda forward under stress
The Iranians admitted to acting on the Syrian crisis under stress: They have so far coughed up the huge sum of $40 billion for arming the Syrian army, plus their regular subsidy for the Lebanese Hizballah – evidence, incidentally, that years of international sanctions had far from crippled the Iranian economy. They were also frank about the spreading disaffection in Iran against the regime’s Syrian escapade, especially among the intelligentsia in Tehran and other cities. The ayatollahs were having a hard time defending their open-ended support for Bashar Assad.
Iran’s second plan, Formula 5:2, was for another forum, consisting of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, to hash out ways and means for ending the Syrian conflict. Their word would be binding on all five participants, as well as its two subjects: the Assad-Hizballah combination under Iran’s guarantee and the Syrian opposition.
For both schemes, Tehran urged all the parties concerned to dump all the old peace tracks that ran into the sand – Geneva 1 in November 2013, Geneva 2 in January 2014 and the Moscow conference in January 2015. This time round, the outside group would dictate a solution to the Syrian belligerents.
Without Iranian and Muslim partners, no Syrian solution
In Tehran’s view, the big powers’ only chance of pushing their solution through depends on its endorsement by Iran and the key Muslim powers of the region. Without getting them aboard, the plan would fall through.
Tehran is now selling the relevant Middle East players a new motto: Break away from old positions to which you were in thrall, let them go and embrace an entirely new approach to the Syrian issue.
The Iranians say they are willing to practice what they preach. For instance, they have adjusted their dogmatic insistence on keeping Assad in power – come what may – and considering placing him at the head of a new transitional regime as a step on the road toward solving the Syrian crisis.
The Syrian ruler, clear-eyed as ever about his prospects, underscored his confidence that he has the “continuing support of key allies Iran and Russia.” In an interview broadcast Wednesday, Aug. 26, he said, “Russia and Iran did not abandon their friends.”
DEBKA Weekly’s sources can corroborate his trust in Russia for now, but Iran is getting ready to put some distance between Tehran and Damascus.
A suddenly sensitive Tehran
In general, the Iranians have become extremely sensitive to international criticism. They complain of being falsely portrayed by “international propaganda media” as a sinister force in the Syrian conflict. Tehran was wronged, for example, by being blamed for the deadly barrel bombs the Syrian air force drops on rebels and urban districts.
Far from manufacturing these weapons and advising Assad to use them, the Iranians claim that the barrel bombs are made in Syria – not Iran – and Tehran has repeatedly urged Assad and his commanders to stop using them.
The Iranians had another beef with the Americans and Arab figures they met this week: While constantly harping on Iran’s warlike conduct, both, they say, are letting tens of thousands of jihadists cross into Syria to fight the Assad regime.