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How will Iran respond to Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s threats concerning Syria

Basij conducting Bait al-Muqaddas drill

Now that the UN Security Council has rejected Russia’s resolution to confirm Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to prevent any armed activities against that country by third countries, the question is what Syria’s closest allies are going to do. The US and France have suggested creating “no-fly zones” over Syria. But now that the Saudis are reported to be moving their troops and planes to Turkey and Jordan, we can see that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are seeking an indirect war. But will it be against Syria?

Publically, the West insists that Russia’s forces stop their strikes and that the Syrian army and its allies stop their attacks.

In fact, the West wants Syria and its allies to capitulate. In the meantime, the United States is taking its bombers away from Syria and Iraq and some sources are rumoring that NATO will not support Turkey in case of its conflict with Russia. They in the West keep demonizing Russia and its leaders but their goal is not to set the Turks or the Saudis against the Russians – for they will hardly attack a power having a nuclear bomb. So, their goal may well be Iran, who is now preparing for parliamentary elections.

These elections are really vital for Iran: will the “conservatives” prevail or will the winner be the “reformers” – President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. But, in public, the Turks and the Americans are pretending that their key problem is the Syrian Kurds. The Turks continue shooting at them in Aleppo as if in an effort to save the city. And only the Saudis are open that their goal is Iran. Being openly anti-Iranian, they miss no single chance to punch their enemy – be it in sports (where they insist on cancelling AFC matches in Iran) or in politics (where their foreign minister says in New York Times that Iran is the key sponsor of terrorism in the world and refers to Yemen and Syria.) The latter charges are very much like the charges recently made by the West and Israel, aren’t they?

They say, “Liar pants on fire.” Everybody knows that it is exactly the Saudis who are sponsoring Sunni terrorists in Yemen and Syria. So, all this looks like a joint effort by the West, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to whip up tension in Syria before the elections in Iran. No coincidence that while speaking on Feb 17 Ayatollah Khamenei said that in their Iranian policies the United States and some EU members are being guided by Zionists and that the Americans may well declare illegal the results of the parliamentary elections in Iran. Later Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said that Iranian border guards had caught a group of counter-revolutionaries, who were planning to wreck the elections.

Earlier Zolfaghari reported a number of foreign spies caught on the border. In the meantime, the Iranian authorities are actively campaigning among ethnic and religious minorities. Ayatollah Khamenei has personally visited the Turkic-speaking province of East Azerbaijan, while the leader of the Armenian community of Iran Paylak Sahak has said that the Armenians are going to actively vote and that those charging Iran with violating the rights of religious minorities aim just to mire its image.

That is, the US and its allies are trying to use the Sunni or ethnic factors against Iran. In other words, they are doing the same they did in 2002-2006 when they tried to stir up Turkic-speaking northern provinces, Arab-speaking Khuzestan and Baloch-speaking Sistan-Baluchestan. But the Iranians are ready for this as are the ethnic and religious minorities living in their country. Last autumn Arabs from Dezful caught “revolutionaries” who confessed that they had been trained by the Americans in Iraq. So, the Turks and the Saudis are just helping the Americans to revolutionize Iran in their manner. So, the question is what the Iranians are doing to prevent this. During his last visit to Russia, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan was welcomed not only by his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu but also by President Vladimir Putin. Little is known about the details of the talks, but in public the sides said that they were going to jointly face the challenges emerging in the region.

Let’s see what leading Iranian mass media, including IRNA, say concerning the Putin-Dehghan meeting. Putin was satisfied with deeper security and defense contacts between Russia and Iran. He said that those contacts were natural, inevitable and crucial for both countries. He commended the joint effort to prevent regional crises and to ensure security in the region and welcomed Iran’s reentry into global markets. Dehghan said that Russian-Iranian defense and security contacts were constructive. “Our countries enjoy strategic long-term relations,” he said.

The Iranian defense minister said that Putin was right when he decided to help Syria to overcome its crisis as only through joint efforts can one root our terrorism. On behalf of the Iranian leaders, Dehghan expressed commitment to develop and deepen Russian-Iranian relations. During his meeting with Dehghan the Director General of Roseboronexport said that Iran was interested in the new generation of Su-30 and in up-to-date aircraft navigation system.

After this meeting both Iranian and Russian mass media reported that Russia was going to sell Iran arms worth $8bn. After Moscow, Dehghan went to Astrakhan, where he attended the dispatch of first S-300 missile systems to Iran. On Feb 18, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces for Logistics Brigadier General Mostafa Izadi confirmed the reports. This year, Iran may also buy Su-30 fighters as well as Yak-130s planes, Mi-17 and Mi-18 helicopters and Bastion coastal missile systems with Yakhont anti-ship missile. The sides may also cooperate in building T-90 tanks, Frigate ships, diesel submarines and some other weapons.

Some sources say that if need be, Iran may also buy S-400 Triumpf anti-aircraft systems. So, we see that Iran is going to strongly enhance its defense capacity – for, according to Dehghan, this is a guarantee of higher security in the whole Middle East. On Feb 19, Deputy Spokesperson at the US Department of State Mark Toner said that the Americans are against the supplies of S-300 systems to Iran and reserve the right to impose new anti-Iranian sanctions.

If all these reports are true, it is clear why the Iranians are so keen to buy modern planes, ships and missile systems. They have no problems with armored vehicles, but aviation and navy are their weak link. So, though already involved in the war in Syria – which has been proved by recent funerals of Iranian revolution guards in Tehran – the Iranians are preparing for even worse scenarios, like being attacked and attacking themselves from the air and the sea. The latter scenario implies a conflict with Saudi Arabia. In Feb the Iranian leaders had meeting with the Yemeni Ansar Allah and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which means that they are not going to give way in either Syria or the Arabian Peninsula.

It was Iran who convinced the Iraqi Shias to join the Syrian army. At least three brigades formerly fighting ISIL in Iraq have been seen fighting in the south and southeast of Syria - Badra, Kataib Hizballah and Asaib Ahl al-Hakk. There are also reports about Afghani, Pakistani and even Palestinian Shias fighting in Syria. So, the “Syrian opposition’s” warnings about the Americans planning to draw the Russians and the Iranians into a Sunni-Shia war have not come true. Here we see the “harm set, harm get” principle at work as the problems of the Shia communities in Turkey and Saudi Arabia may now blow up with most serious consequences for both the Americans and the Israelis. As a result, the Americans may lose all of their allies in the Middle East and may see their Global Middle East plan ruined.

Following the execution of Shia Sheikh Nimr al Nimr in Saudi Arabia, one of the key religious figures of Iran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami warned that the blood of al Nimr could mark the end of the House of Saud. On Jan 3, the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution said that the pro-terrorist and anti-Islamic regime in Saudi Arabia must be overthrown. On Jan 5, Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani said that the Saudi leaders will have to pay for their crime. On Jan 6, Iranian politician Mansour Haghighatpour warned that very soon Saudi Arabia will face a coup and will fall into pieces. The same day Iranian Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said that the al Saud regime is acting in the interests of the United States and Israel. On Jan 7, Deputy Chief Commander of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution Hossein Salami said that Saudi Arabia is facing a collapse.

All these statements imply that those who persecute Shias and betray Islam will go to the scaffold.

As far as Turkey is concerned, it is not showing any wish to conflict with Iran. On Feb 19 Anadolu reported that Turkish Ambassador to the UN Halit Cevik is trying to ease tensions. He said that Turkey supports Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and is not going to launch any land campaign without the UN’s permission. But, in fact, it was a response to the Iranian foreign minister’s Feb 16 statement that declarations by some countries that they may send troops to Syria were just propaganda as nobody could decide on behalf of the war-ridden Syrians. While speaking in Brussels, Zarif said that this may cause even higher tensions in the Middle East and called on Syria’s neighbors to stop imposing their will on the Syrian people. It is clear who Zarif meant – Turkey and Saudi Arabia. On the same day, the Iranian Ambassador to Ankara said that Iran is ready to improve its relations with Turkey especially as the Turks are also interested in this.

This reminds us of the situation of late Aug 2015, when in response to a terrorist attack on a bus on the Iranian-Turkish border and the death of a number of Iranians, Iran’s Foreign Ministry sent a note of protest to Turkey. The ministry expressed concern about numerous attacks on Iranians in Turkey and urged the Turkish authorities to ensure the safety of Iranian citizens and vehicles in the Turkish territory. Earlier that month Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran was seriously concerned about security in Turkey. Experts believe that this is not just concern but a warning that in future the Iranians may take part in some “anti-terrorist operations” in the Turkish territory.

Let’s compare the situations: as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, Iran is warning about indirect wars, while in the case of Turkey, it is worried about security in the Turkish territory – and this sounds much more dangerous. In any case, the following looks more than just a warning:

1) On Feb 18, the Basij started military exercises in the western provinces of Iran.

2) On Feb 19, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said that Saberin and other special groups are fighting in Iraq and Syria with a view to prevent extremism against Shias and to avert possible attacks on the Iranian borders.

He said that unless the Iranians fight their enemies in Syria and Iraq today, they may face them near their western and southern borders tomorrow. This proves that both Iran and Russia have long-term goals in Syria and that their enemies will have to keep this in mind.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

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