What would it take for Iran to abandon Assad?

assad khamanei
File photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Syrian president Bashar al Assad in Tehran


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high-profile meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 23 has triggered speculationthat the two sides are weighing some serious policy choices about Syria. The key question, as always, is the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There is no doubt that Putin’s visit to Iran was of major import. The supreme leader’s foreign policy adviser, Alai Akbar Velayati, claimed that the Russian president’s meeting with Khamenei was the most important in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, explaining that Putin agreed that “no type of agreement [on Syria] would occur…without coordinating with Iran.”

Iranian coordination will almost certainly support the Syrian regime. When Velayati met with Assad on November 29, he noted that Iran “will not accept any peace plan that has not been approved by the Syrian government and nation.”

Iran maintains a firm red line that the Syrian president should not be forced to relinquish power, and must be allowed to stand for any election during a transition process. Assad would have a good chance of winning any vote held in the coming months, due to the regime’s demographic manipulation of territory under its control and the displacement of nearly half of the Syrian population. There is no doubt Iran will fight hard for this option.

But what if Moscow forced Tehran to accept Assad’s departure as part of a negotiated settlement? This is frankly a terrifying prospect for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders who manage the Syria portfolio.

Tehran would need a candidate acceptable to a number of key constituencies within the Syrian regime, including the army, the intelligence services, the minorities at the core of the Syrian state and the remaining Sunni community that still back the president.

At present, Assad is arguably the only candidate suitable for all these constituencies. Any other compromise candidate is unlikely to be able to unify diverse constituencies and avoid paralyzing infighting.

Assad has faced the risk of assassination since the civil war began in 2011, and Tehran has undoubtedly considered alternatives. What would Iran accept for a Syria without Assad?

Someone from Assad’s inner circle.

On the surface this would be the preferred course of action. The problem is, who?

The paranoid Baathist regime in Damascus is not designed to groom successors. Rather, since the onset of the civil war it has focused on eliminating potential rivals.

Some Iranian leaders have even admitted there is no one else viable at the top, despite their frustration with Assad’s leadership. Regardless, such an individual would likely be wholly unacceptable to the Syrian opposition groups and their Arab and Turkish backers.

Compromise candidate from one of the country’s minorities.

Another leader from Assad’s own Alawite community, or possibly even a Christian or Druze, would be attractive to most world powers, including Russia. But despite its close alliance with Assad, Iran has few inroads with Syria’s other minorities, and struggles to work with Syria’s other powerful (and nationalistic) Alawite families.

Sunni Syrian Army officer.

This is another option that could appeal to the Russians. It is hard to see how either the Iranians or the Alawite elites would trust such an individual, however.

Collective ‘junta’ system.

One possibility is decentralizing power to a group of army officers representing each of the major Syrian communities. This only works, though, if Iran has assurance it can dominate the group’s decision-making.

Bet everything on the “Iranianization” of Syria.

The IRGC transformed the Syrian military by mobilizing over 150,000 local militia personnel to augment, and at times supplant, the ever-weakening Syrian army. Iran has also created an unprecedented integrated fighting force of IRGC, Lebanese Hezbollah, Syrian forces and foreign Shia militia units from around the region.

Tehran may hope it has made enough progress in the past few years that whoever is named “president” will be beholden to a security apparatus that largely answers to the IRGC.

None of these options beat Assad, however.

Moscow’s new interventionist Middle East policies are a potentially profound geopolitical shift in Iran’s favor. However, they also create an uncomfortable fear that a political decision on Syria will ultimately be driven by Russia, perhaps at the expense of key Iranian interests.

Tehran usually bets on multiple horses and is probably already laying the groundwork for an aligned post-Assad Syria, as difficult as it may be to achieve. If there is a Plan B for Iran, it probably incorporates elements from many of the five options above:

* Continue the fight on the ground to improve the Syrian regime’s position.

* Work with Russia to find candidates that have support from the army and the Alawite community.

* Prevent the emergence of any leader too popular or strong to potentially push Iran out of Syria later.

* Ensure Iran retains a veto over the transition process either directly or implicitly through threats of sabotaging any deal out of Vienna.

* Above all, focus on the continued building of a new Iranianized military and intelligence “deep state” in Syria that guarantees freedom of movement for the IRGC and Hezbollah and long-term resistance to Western, Saudi, or Israeli power.

Remolding Syria from a secular Baathist Arab state to a more Iranian-style government has always been Iran’s long game. But there remains for Khamenei an even scarier prospect than Russia caving on Assad: a Russia not very keen on an Iran-driven Syria Plan B.

This article was first published on the American Enterprise Institute site.



80 responses to “What would it take for Iran to abandon Assad?”

  1. “Iran “will not accept any peace plan that has not been approved by the Syrian government”
    Yes ask any dictator if he wants to step down when he has destroyed his own country in order to save his position for life. Iran will not let go until they have their very own yes man in power that will allow the weapons to flow freely to Lebanon to supply its Party of god. Iran is not looking for peace as they have bigger plans.

    I am sure that Russia’s interest in Syria will come before Iran’s need for a puppet dictator.
    The big question is, how much air cover will Russia give to Iran to run free and provoke Israel on the Golan’s and other areas in Syria.

    1. Hind Abyad Avatar
      Hind Abyad

      You’re an ignorant bigot, Russia and Israel are not babies.

    2. “The big question is, how much air cover will Russia give to Iran to run free and provoke Israel on the Golan’s and other areas in Syria.”
      I’m pretty sure that the Israeli question is bracketed out in this relationship. The first paragraph stands, though.

      1. Do you think Israel really trusts Russia? Russia destroyed a SAA position in Syria yesterday, and they are on the same side.

        1. “Do you think Israel really trusts Russia?”
          Of course not. One has to be a complete moron to do that.

        2. Hind Abyad Avatar
          Hind Abyad

          Why don’t you give the link? No such thing happening.

    3. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

      How about we skip all the bull and just go for WW3. Nukes on Washington Newyork and Jerusalem.

      1. I always figured, we ALL have “front-row seats” for the Armageddon.

    4. Hind Abyad Avatar
      Hind Abyad

      Oh how you wish head shoppers and canibals Caliphats replace the “dictator”.. or save what’s left of Syria, Rascalif ?..

      1. Hello Hind, I hope all is well today.
        The preferred government for Syria would be a western friendly democratic government with and open mind towards its people, equally, and its social and economic repair.
        People grow tired of constant wars, and old school Theocratic dictatorships (Iran and Saudi Arabia) are dinosaurs in need of extinction.
        Why should bloody Assad stay in power, he is no better than the head shoppers you speak of.

        1. Hind Abyad Avatar
          Hind Abyad

          Netayahu in Russia.
          Israeli, Russian military chiefs to set up body coordinating activities in Syria. By i24news

  2. 5thDrawer Avatar

    Pretty bad that only ONE could be a Leader as a ‘Yes Man’ for an Uber-religionist Supremo.
    SO, You need the Figurehead. Ok. ASSad stays, looking nice, doing an annual prepared speech written by a Geneva Democratic Judge, Paid for by America, Kissed by the French for it’s Egality, and with Economic parts vetted by Germany. Then, the rest of the Year, El Supremo comes in to rebuild houses, The Russians sell oil to Turkey at inflated prices, Lebanon gets the gas for free, and a new power plant big enough for the next 50 years, The Saudis are Salammed as usual, And Hezzys are allowed to cut their own heads with no-one laughing at them.
    Everyone is happy .. except the refugees still roaming around wherever – but only W.H.O. cares about that anyway.

    1. Don’t you think it’s bit too complicated to actually work? 🙂

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar

        Only in the sense that no-one over there is capable of making anything work … not even a light-bulb.

    2. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

      Assad stays.
      Under your situation the saudi’s would be able to go back to trade with this region.
      Refugees are displaced peoples..That was going to happen with or without war.
      They are trying to grow food in the middle of the Syrian desert if you look.
      Which means they are using all of the current available water sources…There were half a million nomads in the region. Who now have to find homes
      Same problem across the whole of the Levant and Arabian peninsular.
      Humanity breeding like a rabbit plague is a problem.
      Solution is UN displaced peoples camps for the homeless. With family planning and education at each camp. A one child policy. Gradually upgrade them to cities. At set of mixed market gardens and parks to use the waste water.

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar

        I think Jordan is working on that … began with 2 refugee cities … some people selling daughters to Saudis, of course, but together they are bigger than Amman now. Schools and health centres in place.

  3. 5thDrawer Avatar

    Talk El Supremo into Flying In Nastyrallah as the Prime Candidate … would be good for Lebanon too. ;-))

  4. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

    J. MATTHEW MCINNIS after listening to the UK/USA regime change project for 5 years you could just fxck off out of Syria and let them sort it out.

    1. Hind Abyad Avatar
      Hind Abyad

      “War veterans discard medals to protest against UK bombing of Syria”

      1. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

        Thanks I know…My local politician turns out she likes bombing people for political power…..tragic.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar

          Ah well … as long as it’s only a selected few … the nukes would be everyone.

          1. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

            They are overrated as a solution.
            The USA let off nearly a thousand on mainland USA and look at how they have turned out.

        2. Hind Abyad Avatar
          Hind Abyad

          ‘Israeli Colonel Caught with IS Pants Down’
          First appeared:http://journal-neo.org/2015/11/25/israeli-colonel-caught-with-is-pants-down/

          1. Michaelinlondon1234 Avatar

            Thank you
            I knew they were crossing the border a lot but this does shed an interesting picture.

          2. First appeared (Thu Oct 22, 2015 3:38) on Fars News Agency: – http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13940730000210

          3. Hind Abyad Avatar
            Hind Abyad

            So what.

          4. Good question……

          5. Hind Abyad Avatar
            Hind Abyad

            It was not a question, no interrogation point.

          6. What ever….

          7. Hind Abyad Avatar

            What ever yourself….

          8. 5thDrawer Avatar

            The real question to ask is: ‘Is Obama happy with Netanyahua, and is the FBI now grilling people in America (CIA) about being involved with Israelis in Iraq’ … since it all sort of goes against Obama try to get rid of Isissies in the first place? Is it a ‘Republican Trump Move’ by the Gun Business?

          9. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Always the same old irrelevancy as your jokes about tragedy. fatiguant

          10. Hind Abyad Avatar

            I Know that.. did you expect NYT?
            (first appeared in Fars News 22.11.2015 (was a trapp for the Zionists here like you).

            Author: F. William Engdahl
            First appeared 22.11.2015: http://journal-neo.org/2015/11/25/israeli-colonel-caught-with-is-pants-down/


          11. Hind Abyad Avatar

            The House of Frankenstein -FDA and GMO Salmon Washington D.C.
            F. William Engdahl (NEO)


      2. 5thDrawer Avatar

        Being a soldier is simply a job … usually fairly good one … and one goes where the boss wants.
        It’s not the only job out there which people pick up, but then find they don’t really enjoy.

  5. Iran will never abandon Assad… Get your head out of your A55.

  6. Hind Abyad Avatar

    Your hate is that he was caught. ISIS Matrix

    1. Give one reason that I should care about this Israeli Colonel?

      I don’t know You and You don’t know me, so stop labeling me.

      You are stuffed with prejudices.

      1. Hind Abyad Avatar

        You’re the one complaining and adressing my opinions, specially to 5th, i said have a nice day twice.. “Intouchable”…

  7. Hind Abyad Avatar

    Cry on 5th shoulder..

    1. Oh yeah sweetie now I have got you with your panties down – “Hind Abyad Cry on 5th shoulder.. or the wailling wall. 11:34 a.m., Thursday Dec. 10”.
      Furthermore once more You are coming with prejudices.

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar

        (geezz Matrix … I’ve been trying to do that for years … you managed it in a short time … must mean one ‘race’ has more in a cranium … ;-))

        1. Hind Abyad Avatar

          You hypocrite said all writers edit .. haha…!

          1. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Overcooked my potatoe patties … again. 🙁 Don’t we edit?

        2. Hind Abyad Avatar

          Where is your ‘race’ cranium?

          “Hind. Really. Same reason they gave Europe back to Europeans”

          Matrix “more cranium” likes it… bwahhahah..

          Antioch was in Syria not Turkey..
          Did you even acknowledge it?

          1. 5thDrawer Avatar

            I had to go out …
            But I’ll say that if after the second round of WW they didn’t sort it all out themselves, back to what they strangely ‘feel’ was in the ‘Pristine&Pure’ times of long ago, they only have themselves to blame.
            The age of Empires was over, in the western minds .. it became an age of Business and empires were only in little bank vaults here and there instead. That certain ‘land-grabbers’ couldn’t see it wasn’t ‘Wests’ fault. 1950 to 1990 was boom-time – perhaps admittedly only in pockets of some of ‘the people’. No-one really wanted to – and doesn’t want to now – need to go do it all again. Although since 1990, Business Empires have wanted more often to remove the money from the pockets of simply everyone of us ‘littles’ on the planet.
            So we can say that ‘Antioch was in Syria not Turkey’ …. and same for Kurdistan was not in either Turkey or Syria … but if the folks can’t do business anyway, it’s their problem.

            I’d rather they didn’t want to drag us into their own little version of a WW.
            We had enough of that crap.

          2. Hind Abyad Avatar

            I didn’t need a lecture on WW1 Empires or WW2..
            Antioch was the Patriarchat of Middle East Chistianity, it was not for Westen foreign countries to give it to the Turks that massaccred Armenians Assyrians and Lebanese.

            Famine Hecatomb in Lebanon (1915-18)
            Lebanon had a calamitous decade (1909-1918).

            Jubran Khalil Jubran wrote to Mary Haskell:

            “The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation, and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon…”

            Turkey had joined Germany in WWI on November of 1914, and France landed in a few Islands on the coast such as Arwad, and established amaritime blockade that secured that no foodstuff reach Lebanon and Syria.


          3. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Would-be-Conquerors don’t consider individual pockets of hapless peoples .. they see only large areas to control .. for their own reasons … not for any humanity of a situation.
            And it’s always Males doing the planning. They can only see other male protagonisits in their ‘mind’s eyes’ … everyone and all the chickens become fodder to ‘A Cause’.
            IT STILL GOES ON .. And Lebanon is a wonderful example of what happens. It could be 1915 again now, and they have accomplished moving back in time to that point.
            Nastyrallah trying to get it back to 999 might not succeed … but there’s still time.
            ESPECIALLY if the education which you and I had never comes to pass.
            (I don’t think the grandkids get it now …)

          4. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Leave me alone with your Nastyrallah Isaeli obssession, he did’n exist then,, Now Turks and Wahhabi Sunni are ISIS still helped by the West.

          5. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Yes. Ok … and many mercenaries who love that sort of thing. Agreed.
            But who’s at fault when someone can’t say: ‘How about shifting the borders back to 1900?’ People who do NOT live in that glorious past, but want to make their own private futures.

          6. Hind Abyad Avatar

            That’s what the West Israel and Turkey are doing 5thdodo.
            Good night.

          7. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Now you want to call me names?? 🙁

          8. Hind Abyad Avatar

            No need for ‘WW’, destroying Arab coutries since Iraq Libya Syria, (Palestine is taken), create terrorists proxies to do the job, make money exploiting ME resources. f..k ME population.

            A difference of opinion

          9. 5thDrawer Avatar

            I like your principles … and will agree on ‘M.E.’ being screwed up … and vastly screwed … but I do NOT believe ‘The West’ did it alone. You believe Zionists could have instigated ALL the similar idots TO ACT? I don’t. People do it to themselves as much as anyone else.

          10. Hind Abyad Avatar

            You are dans les patates..sorry pure Canadian innocence.

          11. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Yes. And what is wrong with innocence? If I eshew all the bad I have seen or experienced and only want to have the good, I could force myself back into innocence .. it feels better.
            I would need, without the innocence, to believe instead, that ALL WHO I MEET have some diabolical plot against me, and against my friends and the life I love.
            But it does not mean I wish a lack of knowledge. Without the knowledge, how could I determine what I will not ascribe to? And I see the harm in ‘too much’ innocence for some … it costs them their lives. Even now. What can be done for those who will not see?
            I know what is good. And what is humane. And what is contentment.
            I know what is great love, and great sorrow. Would I visit either of those on anyone? No. But I know both can happen … it is life. It happens in innocence.

          12. Hind Abyad Avatar

            There’s a difference between innocence and naivity.

          13. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Ahhhh … but you said I was innocent. And I am … always have been. My nature. 😉
            AND, with the exception of Asparagus, Cauliflower, Spinach, and cooked Cabbage, have been willing to try anything … once at least. 😉

          14. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Canada and US were isolated from the world before transatlantic travel..the internet.

          15. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Well, yes .. but not in books. Good old days. It was a joy to read the printed word, and to dream of exotic lands … often romantic in the descriptions. 😉
            In ‘real-life’ travels, one finds there can be some generalities made.
            (e.g. Cities are usually horrible, while countrysides are not. )

          16. Hind Abyad Avatar

            I know.. but not in the ME. Good night again.

          17. 5thDrawer Avatar

            It’s only 7 … you can’t fool me. You’re going to dinner. :-)))

          18. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Other things to do 🙂

          19. Hind Abyad Avatar

            In Middle East they have no right to innocence because of West ambitions.

          20. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Which is why they must be taught more than what one book stuffs into them before ages 6 to 10 … at least call it ‘self-defence’.

          21. Hind Abyad Avatar

            You trust the Huns?

          22. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Don’t know why you ask .. never met one.

          23. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Some scholars regard the Huns as one of the earlier Turkic tribes (Khazars)..

          24. 5thDrawer Avatar

            I seem to recall they also had a ‘vast empire’ back in historical times. Was there a ‘blending’? Was Atilla the worse or best of a breed? Did Kubla make life better?

          25. Hind Abyad Avatar

            The Barbarians invaded Rome, became Germany and Eastern Europe, the balkan blending.. Christian Russia had to deffend themself from Turks invasions for centuries.

        3. Hind Abyad Avatar

          Because he has nothing else to do..

      2. Hind Abyad Avatar

        Not coming.. i already said it you’re the typical opportunisme Zionism playing the European on YaLibnan, in fact ..”Intouchable”….hahah…!

        1. You’re a hopeless cases who love to create imaginary enemies, like the Zionists Europeans, American Jews and the ISIS or al Qaeda, to justify your attacks.

          You turn me to “Playing the European on YaLibnan,”…..

          1. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Huhh..why you never talk to others? Have enough problems in Middle east. Go to the movies.

          2. Nice try Sheldon Cooper…..

          3. Hind Abyad Avatar

            Who’s that? Crazy glue?

  8. Patience2 Avatar

    Probably a few (VERY LARGE) bombs in Tehran. Especially while the fuzzy-face is busy there.

  9. ” Ensure Iran retains a veto over the transition process”

    Is Syria under Iran’s control now? Will Syria ever be a free and fair democracy if Iran has its hands in it? F**k Off Iran. Russia will tell Iran who is in charge. Apparently the USA does not have the balls to do it.

    “* Above all, focus on the continued building of a new Iranianized military and intelligence “deep state” in Syria that guarantees freedom of movement for the IRGC and Hezbollah and long-term resistance to Western, Saudi, or Israeli power.”

    Great, another secret Iranian sponsored Part of God/Hezbullah ensuring there will never be a president complete with Iranian mini-state within Syria.
    And so the terror continues…

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