7 min read  | Interviews, Politics

Iranian activists: ‘Syria will be the Vietnam of Iran’


February 19, 2014

February 19, 2014

Earlier this month, a group of Iranian activists announced the launch of a project called Naame Shaam—Persian for “Letters from Syria”—that seeks to publicly monitor Iran’s role in Syria.

1622735 448575655270900 1184389035 nNaame Shaam was born out of a protest in Syria last November during which protesters demonstrated under the rubric of “The Friday of No to the Iranian Occupation of Syria.”

While Syrians had protested Iranian interference in Syria before, the intensity of that particular protest, says one of the founders of Naame Shaam, “was a bombshell.”

The group’s stated goal is “informing the Iranian public about their government’s policies and direct involvement in Syria,” while also shedding light on “the impact of the Syrian war on the Iranian people – economically, politically and morally.”

Those are things that cannot safely be done inside Iran. For that reason, the activists who formed the group agreed to an interview, but declined to divulge their real names. “We do not want to give Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran any chance to get close to us – we have to be extremely careful,” said one, using the Persian name for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, an elite military force of some 125,000 personnel.

Here, they tell Syria Direct’s Kristen Gillespie why the war with Syria matters to Iranians, and why  “Syrians are dying so that Sepah Pasdaran can have the bomb.”

Q: How invested is the Iranian government in keeping the Assad regime in place?

The Iranian government is fighting in Syria – via Sepah Pasdaran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite fighters – so that Hezbollah in Lebanon can still receive from Iran massive arms shipments via Syria.

The Lebanese Hezbollah is a section of Sepah Pasdaran. Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is to threaten Israel (and the West) by aiming hundreds of missiles on the Jewish state.

The Iranian government is telling the West, especially the US, via Hezbollah missiles: If you or one of your allies like Israel bomb our military nuclear facilities or if you go too far with the economic sanctions, we order our Hezbollah in Lebanon to blanket Tel Aviv with our missiles.

Basically, Sepah Pasdaran is waging a war it will lose in Syria just to be able to build the nuclear bomb. The bomb is supposed to secure the Iranian government’s survival.

Sepah Pasdaran and Hezbollah are now fighting in Syria in order to be able to continue shipping arms via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon – so that Hezbollah remains a serious threat. In this logic, Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite as well as Syrians are dying so that Sepah Pasdaran can have the bomb.

Q: Last week, the United States Treasury Department released intelligence findings that Iran is letting extremist Sunni fighters pass through Iran to get to Syria. Is the Iranian government playing both sides, or is it committed to keeping Assad in power at all costs?

We cannot confirm that the Iranian government is supporting Qaeda members. But we read many reports that the Syrian regime has helped establish Sunni jihadi groups among the rebels in order to discredit the rebellion and make the revolution look like a civil war between a secular, modern Assad regime and a fundamentalist, Taliban-like opposition. This has failed.

In addition, the real rebels have been fighting the jihadi groups. So the picture is becoming clearer, and less and less people are believing the propaganda of state controlled media in Iran and Syria.

We at Naame Shaam do not believe that the Iranian government is playing both sides. It may be supporting Qaeda operatives, in a futile attempt to undermine the Syrian revolution. But not in order to be friends with all, and at the end make a deal with whoever wins.

Sepah Pasdaran, which is ruling Iran, is 100% committed to keeping Assad in power – and through that, guaranteeing Hezbollah’s military might in Lebanon. Sepah Pasdaran may consider dumping Assad and disarming Hezbollah Lebanon (and integrate it into the Lebanese army) if the US and their allies allow Iran to have the nuclear bomb and remove all economic sanctions.

Q: There have been several protests in Syria since March 2011 denouncing Iran’s support for the Assad regime. What was it about the Friday protests on November 8, under the slogan “The Friday of No to the Iranian Occupation of Syria,” that inspired you to start Naame Shaam?

Yes, the idea of the project developed following Friday protests in Syria on November 8, 2013. Like every Friday since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, anti-regime protests were held all over Syria.

The name given by protesters to this particular Friday was “The Friday of No to the Iranian Occupation of Syria.” This was a bombshell. Syrians were telling us Iranians that we are occupying Syria via Sepah Pasdaran and Hezbollah! And in a way, they are right.

So, while watching the pictures and videos of the protests in Syria, it struck us that we as Iranians know so little about what is actually happening in Syria. Most of our information comes from biased, state-controlled media. There is also very little concrete and reliable information about Iran’s role in Syria. We Iranians want to know:

– How much public money is the Iranian government wasting on arming Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its war against the Syrian people?

– How many Iranians from Sepah Pasdaran are fighting in Syria alongside regime forces, or are Iranians really just acting there as ‘advisers’, as the government claims?

– What is the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria?

And we want the Sepah Pasdaran to go back home, and to send Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite fighters back home. Leave the Syrian people in peace!

So, the “The Friday of No to the Iranian Occupation of Syria” on 11.8.2013 basically ignited the decision to set up Naame Shaam. We just could not take the lies spread by official Iranian media anymore.

Q: It is not uncommon among pro-opposition Syrians to believe that Iran is running the Syrian war (militarily.) Do you see the government as supporting Assad’s army by supplying soldiers and weapons, or do you see it in a more active role on the battlefield?

We know that the Iranian government is keeping the Assad regime alive by sending Sepah Pasdaran and Hezbollah advisors and fighters to Syria. Iraqi Shiite fighters funded and controlled by Sepah Pasdaran are also fighting alongside Assad’s troops.

The Iranian government is funding the whole operation, it is funding the Syrian economy in the Assad-held areas, and it is paying Russia for arms being shipped to Assad. The Iranian government’s involvement is massive.

Q: We are hearing that Hezbollah soldiers are running their own operations with Assad forces answering to their command. What role are Iranian soldiers playing in battle?

On the Syrian battlefields, Hezbollah fighters and Sepah Pasdaran seem to be the ones running the show. This is what we hear and read.

The tragic part of the whole involvement of Sepah Pasdaran in Syria is that Syria will be the Vietnam of Iran. This road down to hell occurred when Sepah Pasdaran sent Hezbollah to take over the Syrian town of al-Qusayr in the summer of 2013 – to secure arms shipments from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now Sepah Pasdaran and Hezbollah are in the Syrian trap, their Vietnam. What a mess.

Q: On your Facebook page, you have a special notice for how people in Iran can read your posts without being tracked by the government. Given the Iranian government’s intolerance for any dissidence in any form, what do you hope to achieve through your page?  

We aim at reaching all Iranians, especially the ones supporting the government and the majority that is afraid of where Iran is heading. We want the debates to be as rational as possible. We want common sense to prevail.

Some supporters of the regime know what is going on in Syria; others want to believe the lies of the government and close their eyes and ears. Opposition activists know a bit. And the majority of the people do not know. That is why we set up Naame Shaam to inform them all.

We want to inform, inform and inform – in Farsi! And we want to engage Iranians in debates about who our government is supporting in Syria – in Farsi! We want to show that Assad is a dictator killing innocent people who want freedom and dignity.

We want to show that the real Syrian opposition, and not shadowy groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, are fighting for freedom and dignity. We want to debunk the lies of Iranian officials on Syria, and we want to highlight the role of Sepah Pasdaran in Syria via its own fighters and commanders as well as via Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite fighters.

We hope to ignite a debate that will reach more and more people to create a change in perception, and then the needed pressure on our government to leave the Syrian people in peace.

Ultimately, we want the Iranian people to demand that our government withdraw all Sepah Pasdaran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite fighters from Syria. We want the Iranian government to stop supporting the regime of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. As Iranians, we are ashamed of the support our government gives to Assad, who is mass-killing the Syrian people.

Beware: People in Iran are very active on FB! They can bypass government censorship easily. Millions do that every day. In addition we will launch a website in mid-March at the latest.

We know that people in Tehran, Isfahan, Qom and other cities are against Iran’s involvement in Syria. It is becoming slowly but surely unbearable.

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