Although turning Syria into a failed state will impose huge challenges on regional countries, it will nevertheless offer Iran many important opportunities on several fronts.
Syria is now at a critical juncture where Assad’s leaving will be the best solution in these circumstances for the future of Syria and for that of the region. His insistence on staying parallel to the slow but steady progress of the FSA on many fronts inside the country will create a crisis that may last for years for Syria and the region.
The developments that took place during the last two month easily project this situation and show the desperation of Assad as FSA operations reach Damascus the fortified heart of the regime. Assad didn’t hesitate -as reports from NATO and HRW confirmed- to use Scud missiles to target civilians as well as Napalm bombs prohibited in 106 countries in addition to Cluster bombs, white phosphorus bombs, and poisonous gases that results in paralysis and blindness.
Contrary to what some might think, the usage of these weapons and the heavily dependence on the Air force are not signs of Assad’s hold on power. Rather they prove that the regime is losing control on the ground. Not only this, but the regime has lately lost control on many of its strategic and military assets like: air defense bases, military airports, missile batteries, barracks, weapon reservoirs, border gates, logistics points.
The Iranian stance
Although Russia had some time to reconsider its position from the Syrian regime based on these new facts, it is interesting that Iran is still fully supporting Assad in such circumstances. The Iranian insistence on supporting Assad till the end raises many questions regarding the real goal of Tehran as it is not showing the classical attitude of the known Iranian pragmatism.
Iran still support Assad military, financially and politically and confirmed several times the presence of IRGC members inside Syria, the latest were the statements of General Mohammad Ali Jafari -head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps- who had confirmed the presence of Al-Quds force members inside Syria claiming that they are in advisory mission.
When things go well, it is certainly understandable to see Iran standing by Assad. However, when Assad regime is losing, it is necessary to employ additional analysis tools to understand Iran. The Only reasonable approach towards Iran’s such kind of stance is that “if Iran is destined to see Assad regime lose anyway, the best option then is to give support to Assad, to the last moment”. This stance will in fact benefit Iran in the future. Iranian support to Assad, in such an environment, will prolong the crises, drain Syria’s resources as a state and thus pave the way to a failed state scenario, which is something Iran might be preparing for it from now.
Risk of Syria turning into a failed state
In such a scenario, all indicators show us that Syria can be suitable environment for mercenaries, radical groups and terrorists. The weakening of Syria as a state structure and the exhaustion of the resources of that state will pave the way for drifting the country into a deeper chaos. As a result this will make things altogether more difficult fueling ethnic and sectarian strife and strengthen the separation tendencies.
In this scenario in contrast to the other regional states, Iran will not be the absolute loser. Iran has extensive experience, in dealing with such situations. This will not only allow Tehran to survive in such environment an environment but will also allow Tehran to exploit this environment to its benefits. Using this environment Tehran can force international powers to sit on the negotiating table and make some gains.
Although turning Syria into a failed state will impose huge challenges to the regional countries, it will however offer Iran many important opportunities on several fronts: buying time in the nuclear program issue, strengthen its national security vis-a-vis Israel since Syria can be turned at that time as another playing ground to be added to Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.
Moreover, Iran will have a chance to use Syria in this scenario against its regional rivals, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the struggle for influence on the regional level. Such a scenario is very dangerous scenario for the other smaller countries too like Lebanon and Jordan, especially if this scenario involved fueling the sectarian strife and radicalism in the region.
The three important cards
Moreover, a failed state scenario in Syria offers Iran many cards to play:
1- The Kurdish card: This can be used against regional rivals like Turkey. There is increasing evidence of Iranian involvement of supporting terrorist groups like PKK against Turkey.
Such a possibility can’t be neglected. Nearly one year ago, Yusuf Ziad who is described as the PKK’s informal media official, suggested in a written piece, to form a Kurdish-Shiite (PKK-Iran) alliance stating: “the interests of both sides suggest that there is a credible ground for such alliance which is the best option for Iran at this stage. Tehran is losing Assad, Turkish Moderate Islam model is spreading on the expense of the Iranian one and Ankara called NATO to its border.” He also added “this coalition will provide Iran with a new area of operations from Lebanon to Afghanistan; which would become a breathing ground.”
2- The Alawite card. Iran will have interest in supporting Alawite groups and Alawite areas in order to secure a foothold inside Syrian which enables it later to create and form a highly trained military Alawites groups as Hezbollah in Lebanon and its proxies in Iraq.
These groups will work as proxies for Iran and secure its strategic interests and enable its to keep the vital artery linking the Alawite areas with Lebanon and secure the corridors used to keep the flow of Arms and support for Hezbollah.
Such a step will divide Syria into cantons based on sectarian differences and result in a misery situation in which the group formations seem to be stronger than state. In addition, this step will also disrupt the stability in Syria. This will also harm the Arab states who have interests in Syria and Lebanon; and feed the separatist movements on regional base.
3- Radical Groups card. Iran will be able to create radical militias from different sects under many slogans and use them against Israel or to undermine Syria’s security and stability making the possibility of forming strong government almost impossible.
In any case, a peaceful transitional process in which Assad and his circle leaves the country will be the best option to avoid such a scenario and its catastrophic implications on Syria and the region, but the fact that there is a conflicting regional interests, turkey should be ready for various other scenarios and even the worst case scenario.