Ahmadinejad Assad 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Evidence is beginning to emerge of an active Iranian role in aiding the Syrian
crackdown on protests. Opposition reports suggesting an Iranian presence in
parts of Syria, and Tehran’s providing equipment and training to help suppress
the demonstrations, have been in circulation since March. In mid-April, unnamed
US officials quoted in The Wall Street Journal for the first time also said that
Iran was helping to suppress the protests. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner
in the following days confirmed these allegations, expressing the US’s “real
concerns” at the role being played by Iran.
An Iranian oppositionist
site, the Green Voice of Freedom, has now quoted “official sources” who claim
that a meeting took place in Damascus in mid-April between Syrian officials and
Iranian Brig.-Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan. Radan, a senior police commander, is
generally credited with the successful crackdown on protests following the
allegedly rigged Iranian presidential elections in 2009.
former Iranian diplomat told the Los Angeles Times
that he doubted this meeting
had taken place. Radan, he suggested, was too “notorious and recognizable” for
the Islamic Republic to risk his presence in Damascus. Still, the former
diplomat agreed that it was likely Iran was offering its ally assistance of some
kind. He suggested the secretive Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards as the
most likely agency engaged in this.
The precise nature of the support
arriving from Iran differs depending on who is asked. Among Syrian
oppositionists, there are persistent rumors that the snipers whose bullets have
taken a terrible toll among the protesters in recent weeks include some
Others suggest that the Syrian authorities have learned less
lethal and more effective methods from their Iranian friends. Thus, the recent
wave of massive roundups of activists in centers of unrest is said to resemble
similar mass arrests after the 2009 protests in Iran. In both cases, apparently,
the authorities found that the mysterious disappearance of protesters, who
reappeared later, sometimes after torture, proved an effective method of
The latest claim of Iranian involvement in Syria comes from
that usual bastion of support for anti- Western regimes in the region, the Al
Jazeera satellite network. According to the Qatari channel, one of its
employees, Iranian-Canadian-American journalist Dorothy Parvaz, is currently
incarcerated in Iran, after being detained at Damascus airport.
the evidence offered so far is circumstantial.
There is no smoking gun
yet. But the circumstantial evidence is accumulating, and the variety of sources
from which it is emanating point to there being at least something to
BUT THERE is a further test to be applied to the claims – namely the
test of probability. If you were the Iranian regime, and Bashar Assad was in
trouble, wouldn’t you be likely to help him? The Syrian and Iranian strategic
partnership runs deep, and there is every reason for the Iranians to wish to
preserve it. Syrian-Iranian military cooperation is formalized (a cooperation
treaty was signed in 1998) and intensive. Syria gives Iran a presence on the
Mediterranean. It is the key arms conduit between Tehran and its Hezbollah
client in Lebanon. It is also a major recipient of Iranian arms and aid. And
Iran tends to stick by its allies.
There is an additional important
motive: The socalled Arab Spring until now has seen the departure of two
pro-Western regimes – Zine El Abidine Bin Ali’s in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak’s
in Egypt. The recent independent Saudi and Gulf state action in Bahrain
indicates that the confidence of regional states in their US patron is at a
The main strategic process under way in the Middle East is the
conflict for domination between Iran and its allies, and the US and its clients.
Syrian regime survival would be a glowing advertisement to regional leaders that
unlike the US, Iran will do all it can to keep its friends from overthrow. The
message being: The Iranian/Islamist bloc is the one to align with if you want to
Victory in Syria would bring a further potential propaganda
victory for Iran and its allies. It has been noted in the region and beyond that
the Western condemnation of Syria has been tepid in the extreme. This is in
direct contrast to the treatment doled out to western allies (Egypt, Tunisia) or
nonaligned oddities (Libya). There is a growing perception that the intervening
factor protecting Syria, and differentiating Assad from these other
unfortunates, is his alignment with the brutal “resistance axis” in the region.
It gives him deterrent power.
Assad and his allies in Iran and Lebanon
lack any talent in the realm of social and economic development.
in which they are truly worldclass, however, is the employment of proxy military
In Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and beyond, both
Syria and Iran possess well-armed clients, available for activation. The US
wants to draw down in the region in the next years. It wants to leave Iraq and
Afghanistan. Taking on Iran-allied Syria could have a very serious effect on
these plans. Fear of the possible consequences is likely to keep Syria
Syria is not without recourse, and the West knows it. When the
corrupt regime associate Rami Makhlouf told the readers of The New York Times
this week that “when we suffer, we will not suffer alone,” there was some
substance behind his words.
Of course, the problem with buckling to these
kind of threats is that you look weak. And the ones who successfully threatened
you (Iran and Syria) look strong. It is not yet too late for the US and the EU
to prevent this.
Beginning an active drive for the downfall of Assad and
adopting appropriate sanctions against him would be a start. This, however,
would require a reversal of thinking on the region that shows no signs as yet of
arriving.The writer is a senior research fellow at the Gloria Center,