There’s a ceasefire (sort of) in Syria – a fragile breather amid years of bloodshed and carnage. Iran, which according to The Guardian is poised to be one of the “winners” of the conflict, was quick to issue a statement in support of the cessation of hostilities.
And yet, simultaneously, reports surfaced that Syrian regime forces supported by Tehran were still at it, bombing away. As for Iran itself – just this week, it was announced that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander was killed in fighting near Aleppo, contradicting Tehran’s long-standing (but not so plausible) official claim that it has only sent military personnel to Syria to fill advisory roles when, in fact, its “foreign legion” has been reported to lead the battle in northern Syria.
More Iranian hypocrisy – “supporting” the ceasefire, but not adhering to it? Certainly, but Iran was also cautious enough to add a caveat to its statement supporting the ceasefire – that it supports it in theory, but “in practice there will be problems,” because terrorist organizations shouldn’t come under the protection of the ceasefire agreement. And what constitutes a terrorist organization, according to Iran? Its definition is distinct from the West’s in that it encompasses anyone fighting against Assad, but excludes recognized terror groups such as its proxy Hezbollah.
In fact, a recent analysis by Majid Rafizadeh in The Huffington Post would suggest that Syria is another area in which there is no distinction between Iran’s so-called “moderates” and hardliners: none have contested or criticized Iran’s ongoing presence in Syria, nor the destruction it has wrought. On the contrary, a continued Iranian influence (and physical presence) in Syria seems to be one of the mainstays of Tehran’s regional policy – one for which peace talks and ceasefires are merely minor hindrances.
Thus, although Washington Post columnist David Ignatius described the very continuation of the Syrian peace talks as “the biggest surprise,” Rafizadeh wrote in an op-ed in Al-Arabiya that it is hardly surprising considering Iran is using them for its own ends. Iran’s strategy, Rafizadeh wrote, is to use the talks to ensure that Bashar Assad’s regime stays in power (and under Tehran’s wing), as well as to enhance its global legitimacy and reassert its “indispensable role” in the Middle East.
Writing in The Independent a month ago, Kyle Orton expressed similar sentiments, accusing Iran and ally Russia of using the peace talks as a “cover” to gain ground in Syria and describing the ceasefire as “a week of internationally recognized time for the Russia-Iran-Assad coalition to advance on Aleppo.” Surprising? Not so much.