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How Iran sees Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria

A complex series of considerations — including the ignition of blowback from Kurdish groups elsewhere in the region — has caused Iran to remain muted in its response to Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.

The Turkish military operation in Afrin against Kurdish fighters has sparked different reactions among various parties involved in Syria, based on how each actor interprets the goals and implications of Ankara’s unilateral move. While the United States has appeared to be against the operation, especially given Washington’s support for the Kurdish forces fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Russia has silently gone along with the move. Iran, as another influential actor on the Syrian stage, has preferred to take a line between total rejection and total acknowledgement of the operation.

Tehran’s first reaction came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, who on Jan. 21 expressed “hope” that the operation in Afrin would end immediately to prevent further instability in Syria. While stating that the Islamic Republic “is monitoring closely and with concern the recent events,” Ghassemi underlined the necessity of preserving “territorial integrity of Syria and respecting the national government of this country.” The following day, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, held a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, in which the Iranian side once again stressed the importance of maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, while stopping short of calling upon Turkey to end its operation.

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