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Why Tehran claims its war in Syria is defensive

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei maintains that, if it were not for the sacrifices of his country’s soldiers killed in Syrian war, Iran would have to fight the agents of the US and Zionism in Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan.
Khamenei is apparently attempting to justify to his people, as well as the victims’ families, the human losses his country incurred in its war in Syria, a state which does not border Iran.
But Khamenei’s statement gives the message that inside dangers that threaten the regime require moving the battle outside Iran’s borders.
The Iranian leadership has recently been eager to repeat speeches focused on justifications for its external war in a bid to silence critics that slammed the sacrificing of their country’s troops in an unnecessary war, just for the sake of satisfying the arrogance of Tehran’s religious and military leaders who are greedy for expansion and hegemony.
As long as the war got longer, resentful voices and questions grew louder, and the logic of countering the US and Zionism got more meaningless after 30 years of overuse, during which it was only used for the ultimate goal of staying in power.
Throughout the post-revolution decades, the Iranian leadership continued to back terrorism, fuel regional and global violence, threaten its neighbors, build its nuclear project and prepare for wars, something that has been the country’s sole project and ideology.
Tehran has been pursuing all these activities under the pretext that it has been defending itself and getting ready to face the threat of invasion by the international, Western, Zionist powers. Now that Iran signed the nuclear deal and has reconciled with the West, the alleged fears should vanish. But instead of adopting an open strategy and restoring peace, Iran indulged in more external military adventures.
Militarizing society
Since its war against Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s era, the Tehran regime took on the policy of militarizing the society. It took five years of intransigence and rejection of international mediators’ calls for the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to agree to completely stop the war with Iraq. This is because the war served as a means of exterminating the remaining officials of the Shah’s regime and, later on, getting rid of other internal rival powers.
But why does the regime need more wars to stabilize its pillars inside the country, having eliminated most of its adversaries?
Actually, Iran is a big country that has several internal powers. These powers are not necessarily enemies to the regime, but they are ideologically and socially opposed to it. Furthermore, inside the ruling religious and security circle itself, there are rival powers that are besieged and sometimes eliminated. Since the beginning of history, external wars have been used by insecure regimes as a means for imposing their internal dominance.
Though Iran is a poor country inside, most of its military and security institutions — like the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, the intelligence agency and the military — are rich and huge. These institutions are focused on advanced industries and own giant businesses working in different fields like oil, refineries, trade and hotels.
Iran’s problem, which its leaders are aware of now, lies in the external wars it launches without achieving decisive victories. In Iraq, for example, whenever a fire is extinguished, another rages. As for Syria, even though Iran made successive triumphs, it would not be enough to preserve the regime of Bashar Assad, because it is a weak regime that will definitely fall if Iran withdraws its troops and militias from the country.
As a result of expanding its wars, Iran also has a presence in Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Hence, Tehran is facing a dilemma. It refuses to accept moderate political solutions for the crises in the conflict-hit areas, which will leave it trapped there, insisting to fight, for years.
In the past Iran marketed its fighting on religious, sectarian grounds, when it claimed it defended Shiite shrines. But now, as most of the fighting is away from shrines, it claims that the battle in the faraway Aleppo is for defending Iran’s internal security.
Now the question is: How long will the Iranians tolerate the losses incurred by their regime’s adventures? It depends on how powerful and strong a grip the security forces have on the situation in the street. The formal speeches and propaganda will not last forever.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of the Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.

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