Confronting the terror trio

The Assad regime’s survival is a death sentence for the Syrian people and should raise alarm bells in every UN Security Council member state.

Egyptian protests (Reuters) 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Egyptian protests (Reuters) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
The Syrian regime’s bestial crackdown, rapidly expanding to cities across the country, is causing dangerous repercussions beyond its borders.
While the US and EU ponder the best approach (besides limited economic sanctions) to persuade President Bashar Assad to end the campaign of violence against his own people, developments in Lebanon and Iran – two of Syria’s partners in terror – merit equally urgent attention.
Together, these three countries constitute the Middle East’s northern tier of terror. Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, visiting Tehran over the weekend, praised Iran’s role in “peace and security in the region,” and joined with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in declaring their mutual eagerness to expand bilateral relations.
Mansour, representing the Hezbollah-dominated Lebanese government, was in Iran to attend the International Conference on the Global Fight against Terrorism.
Hosted by Iran, the chief state sponsor of terrorism, this gathering is just one indication of what lies ahead for the region.
Indeed, as awful as the Syrian situation is now, it can get worse. The long-delayed UN-backed Lebanon tribunal indictments for the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri are expected within weeks. If they indeed implicate, as expected, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, there will probably be a violent backlash from this alliance of terror, supported by Iran, which already has done its utmost to influence Lebanese politics.
A few months before the uprisings began in Tunisia and Egypt, Ahmadinejad was feted by supporters of Hezbollah on his first visit to Lebanon in October. He also stopped in Damascus to present one of Iran’s highest awards to Assad. Were he not preoccupied with pursuing his reign of terror, Assad, a primary supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas, might well have joined the weekend gathering of terrorists in Iran.
In Jaunary came the Iranian/Syrian/Hezbollah supported collapse of the Saad Hariri government – payback for the Cedar Revolution that followed his father’s assassination and led to the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces. It is twisted irony that those troops have pointed their guns and tank turrets at Syrians during the past three months.
Always looking for opportunities to extend its reach, Iran, soon after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s government fell, sent two warships through the Suez Canal to dock in the Syrian port of Latakia. Not long after that display of Iranian-Syrian cooperation, Israel seized the Victoria, filled with Iranian arms intended for Hamas, also an Iranian beneficiary.
And Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah last week threatened to take action to defend his ally in Damascus. Could be more bluster, but it was Nasrallah who initiated the devastating 2006 war with Israel. He speaks today, though, from a new position of strength. Hezbollah has rearmed. Nasrallah himself is not sitting in the Lebanese cabinet, but Hezbollah and its allies hold a majority of the 30 seats in the government of Prime Minister Najjb Matiki, an ally of Hezbollah and Syria.
Back in Iran, the regime is pressing ahead with developing nuclear weapons. International Atomic Energy Agency Director Yukiya Amano, who has urged even stronger sanctions against Iran, has also been an important voice criticizing Syria’s covert nuclear program.
IAEA referral of Syria to the UN Security Council for action, however, has been blocked by Russia, which prefers allegiances to enemies of the US over a multilateral response to global threats. The Russians and Syrians are also kindred spirits when suppressing dissent. The Assad regime seems to have read the Russian handbook about Chechnya.
Now, even as Syrian forces operate perilously close to Turkey, risking a wider conflict, some in the West still fear what might happen if the Assad regime does collapse. Its continuation should be the bigger concern.
The Assad regime’s survival is a death sentence for the Syrian people and, combined with the emerging threats from Beirut and Tehran, should raise alarm bells in every UN Security Council member state.
Syria can no longer be considered an isolated situation. Rather, the trio of Iran, Lebanon and Syria must be seen as a package. Focusing on that northern tier of terror and bringing a variety of pressures to bear to defeat it must be a top priority.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee's director of media relations.