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January 31, 2014 11:19 am

Former U.S. Ambassador Hof: Iran Fears Saudi Arabia, Not Israel

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Former U.S. Ambassador Frederic Hof. Photo: Screenshot / CSPAN.

Former U.S. Ambassador Frederic Hof. Photo: Screenshot / CSPAN.

Iran believes Saudi Arabia to be its real enemy inside and outside Syria, and not Israel, which it believes will be kept in check by an armed and ready Hezbollah, in Lebanon, Former U.S. Ambassador Frederic Hof said at a Congressional panel discussion this week, according to Dubai’s Al Arabiya News on Friday.

Hof, the former special adviser for transition in Syria at the U.S. Department of State and adviser to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, said this insight was revealed to him by Iranian officials in private meetings.

Hof said one Iranian official told him that “neither the U.S. nor Israel intervened in Syria,” adding that the real problem was Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent, Turkey, according to Al Arabiya.

“Iran is concerned about the consequences of the sectarian and civil war in Syria, but Saudi Arabia will benefit from sectarianism in the region,” Hof said Iranian officials told him. “The United States and Iran have common interests in containing the sectarian war in the region and defeating Saudi Arabia that has challenged the U.S.”

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Hof said the officials told him that “Hezbollah is Iran’s main line of defense in case Israel [decides] to launch an attack against its nuclear facilities.”

“Iranian officials believe that any Israeli leader who might think about launching any attack on Iran should first think about the impact of rockets on Israeli cities, economic infrastructure, and military bases.”

“Keeping Hezbollah always ready to fight, is not an easy task for Iran, and since Bashar [al-Assad] has no problem in conveying weapons and spare parts from Iran to Hezbollah, Iran will uncompromisingly support him.”

“Iran sees Bashar as a key pillar,” Hof added, “and Tehran sees him as the cornerstone of the Iranian regime; if he falls everything that Iran has planned will fall as well. Iran believes that overthrowing Bashar would be a test before leading the bigger operation: toppling the Iranian regime.” This is why Iranian officials reject the possibility of any political solution in Syria, he said.

“Iran is not ready to take into consideration any suggestion to replace the regime of Bashar with another regime even if it will similarly support Hezbollah. Iran considers that anyone succeeding Assad will represent a great loss in the interests of Iran’s national security.”

Hof quoted an Iranian official as saying: “Iran is arming Syrian Shiites and other militias and its purpose is not providing support to Assad’s regime, but maintaining the bond with Hezbollah in case the Syrian regime collapses.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also wants Assad to remain in power because he wants Russia to be the sole “great power,” Hof said. “Russia favors the survival of [President] Bashar al-Assad in Syria and that this is the crux of the matter,” though “he is not sure about the extent that Russia is ready to undertake to ensure that Assad remains in power.”

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