Few Iranian official visits to Lebanon and Syria have sparked storms of controversy like those following Saeed Jalili’s recent visit. Jalili is the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the chief nuclear negotiator of Iran. The reactions rippled from Beirut and Damascus all the way to Baghdad.
Jalili's messages and the sharp reactions to it have made clear that confrontation in the region has become open and devoid of any diplomatic cover. Also, it seemed clear that the main players have decided to put their cards on the table. Thus, the space for maneuvering has shrunk to nothing, with the Syrian crisis reaching an advanced level that resulted in the recent escalation in the tone of Iranian officials. In fact, they threatened that Syria's fire, if not extinguished, will ignite the region and burn Israel at a time when the relationship with Turkey and Saudi Arabia is heading toward greater complexity.
Jalili's recent round of visits carried a lot of clout given the visitor's position, the timing of the visit and its message. These reflect the Iranian leadership's transition from a phase of defense to one of counter-attack.
As for Jalili's "identity card," he is an essential part of the decision-making process in Iran, and hence directly linked to Supreme Leader Imam Ali Khamenei. He has a strong relationship with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is in charge of the nuclear issue and the related negotiations. In other words, Jalili is a central figure in the Iranian system, and his words reflect the "clear position" of the Islamic Republic. Therefore, every word he says is well thought out and treated with a great deal of seriousness and importance.
Jalili's visit to Beirut means that Lebanon is deemed by Tehran to be deeply vital to its national security, and that Iran seeks to confirm the rigidity and immunity of the resistance against suggestions that the pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will embarrass the axis of resistance, with Hezbollah at its forefront.
It seemed clear that Jalili wanted to confirm that the resistance in Lebanon is consistent and firm regardless of the changing circumstances. He seemed to want to convey that those who think that targeting the Syrian regime will weaken the resistance are mistaken. Iran has firmly entered the game to maintain balance and prevent its opponents from tipping the scales in their favor as a result of the wide-open Syrian crisis.
As for the timing, it was remarkable that Jalili's visit to Beirut and Damascus coincided with the start of the battle in Aleppo, as if Tehran wanted to convey to the concerned parties in the region and in the West that it is directly involved in this battle. Iran apparently wanted to convey that it supports President Bashar al-Assad's decision to resolve the battle, based on the theory that whoever maintains the upper hand militarily can impose political conditions or at least be able to improve their position in any settlement. Aleppo is close to the Turkish border, and people are betting that it will turn into another Benghazi backed by Turkey.
Based on the strategic importance of the confrontation taking place in Aleppo, experts confirm that Tehran will not allow this city and its surroundings to become a buffer zone, as a launching pad to pull the noose tight on Assad in Damascus, knowing full well that those whoever controls Aleppo will have the upper hand.
As for Jalili's proposals in Beirut and Damascus, particularly regarding the axis of resistance, they indicate that Tehran is now acting as a front-line partner in the current confrontation, not a mere supporter of the Syrian regime from afar.
Jalili's positions reflected a clear and renewed Iranian position that the fall of Assad will not be allowed, and that Iran is betting on his survival even though most of the world is lined up against him — just as it had previously bet (and won) on the selection of Nouri al-Maliki as head of the Iraqi government, despite many leaders opting for Iyad Allawi, including Syria itself. Even so, the position was still given to Maliki.
Jalili has chosen to enter the conflict in Damascus after the army succeeded in expelling most of the militants from it, in clear messages to the US that the battle in Syria has become Iranian-American, that President Bashar al-Assad cannot be singled out in rhetoric trying to camouflage the real dimension of the conflict and that the region visited by Jalili, extending from Beirut to Tehran via Damascus and Baghdad, is an integral whole.
Thus, experts on the Iranian strategy toward Syria believe that the Syrian crisis is a national-security issue for Tehran, which is equal in importance to the Iranian nuclear issue. In other words, it is practically correct to say that the Islamic Republic deems the enrichment of the "strategic uranium" in Syria as no less important than that of its nuclear program. Those who think that Tehran could compromise Assad at a given moment are committing a fatal mistake, which is well understood by those closely following the Iranian situation.