TEHRAN: Hezbollah’s decision to enter the war in Syria was “logical” given that Damascus helped the party survive its 2006 war with Israel, a senior Iranian official who previously served as commander of the Revolutionary Guard told The Daily Star.
In a rare interview with a foreign media outlet, retired Gen. Mohsen Rezaee, secretary of Iran’s powerful Expediency Discernment Council, also said international efforts to resolve the Syria conflict would not succeed without Tehran’s participation.
“What Hezbollah is doing in Syria is quite legitimate, logical and rational. When Israel attacked Lebanon in the 33-day war, it was Syria who helped them. If Syria hadn’t helped them they would not have succeeded. So now it is their turn to compensate for that help,” said Rezaee, who served as commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from 1981 to 1997.
“Hezbollah is a logical and very wise political organization. They don’t even do anything extreme against Israel. As we saw in the 33-day war, they could have hit Jerusalem with missiles, but they didn’t,” Rezaee said during an interview at his office in Shahid Daghayeghi, a heavily guarded, closed neighborhood of Tehran that houses the residences of senior Revolutionary Guard personnel.
The United Nations has brokered two rounds of peace talks between the Syrian government and exiled opposition leaders in an effort to put an end to the 3-year-old war, which has claimed more than 140,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon initially invited Iran to join the second round of Geneva peace talks, which concluded last month in Switzerland, but he later rescinded the invitation under U.S. pressure after the opposition Syrian National Coalition threatened to boycott the meetings if Tehran attended.
High-ranking delegations from the United States, Russia and 40 other countries attended the talks, which broke down without an agreement on Feb. 16.
Rezaee said the West had erred in not allowing Iran to join the negotiations. “Until Iran enters this dialogue they can’t fix this problem.”
Rezaee said Iran was ready to cooperate with international community to stabilize the region, adding that Tehran had already demonstrated that it prioritizes maintaining regional security.
He noted that in 2007, Baghdad asked Tehran to join a trilateral committee grouping Iran, Iraq and the U.S. to stabilize Iraq, and the Islamic Republic agreed to participate.
“For us the most important thing is the security of the region, the peace in this region, the economic development of this region,” he said.
Rezaee also said Lebanese groups that criticize Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict were “making a big mistake,” because the party’s activities there bolstered Lebanon’s security.
“Just imagine if those extremists had defeated President [Bashar] Assad,” Rezaee said of radical groups fighting against the Syrian regime.
“Those extremists would have been capable of annexing parts of Lebanon into Syria,” he said. “Whatever Hezbollah has been doing is for the national security of Lebanon. And the security of Lebanon and Syria are so intertwined with one another that they cannot be separated.”
Rezaee was careful to draw a distinction between extremist militants and the more moderate opposition groups fighting against Assad.
“The Syrian opposition is divided into two groups. One includes very radical groups that are so dangerous for this region, for the stability of this region. They are more dangerous than Saddam Hussein,” he said of the former dictator of Iraq, with which Iran fought a bloody war from 1980 to 1988.
“But we have another set of opposition groups in Syria who are such logical people and who can build a setting for good dialogue with Mr. Assad,” he said, in an apparent reference to the Free Syrian Army and other moderate groups.
“We really want the Syrian people – the real Syrian people, all of them – to come together and have this dialogue and implement real political reform in Syria,” he said.
“We don’t have any problem with Syrian opposition groups that have logic ... We will never oppose them. We believe they and Mr. Assad’s regime can work together to reach reform,” he added.
Rezaee said three recent conflicts in which the West had a role had served to demonstrate how the balance of power had shifted in the region: the 2006 war in Lebanon, the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza and the current conflict in Syria.
“My interpretation of these three conflicts is that the Americans must think logically and realistically and remove their hands from these serial defeats. If they don’t, the future of the United States in this region will be in danger.”