Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No Surprise

Call this the non-surprise of the year: as Bashir Assad continues to slaughter anti-regime protesters, the Syrian dictator is getting a little help from his friends:

A senior Israeli source says Iran is involved in the suppressing of the anti-regime demonstrations in Syria. Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the Al-Quds force, commanded by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, are operating throughout the country, the source says.

The source told Haaretz there is clear information on Iran's involvement in the crushing of the protests, as well as the participation of Hezbollah. Their role is not limited to shootings; Iran has also supplied equipment to the Syrian army, including sniper rifles and communications systems for disrupting the Internet in the country, the source said.

Syrian residents and media reports say men in military uniforms have been heard speaking poor Arabic or Farsi among themselves.

"In the Syrian army there is a ban on beards, so when we see military people with beards we can assume they're not part of the regular Syrian army," the source said.

Iran's involvement reached a new zenith, the source said, when the Revolutionary Guard organized the demonstrations against Israel on the Golan Heights as part of the events on Nakba Day on May 15 and Naksa Day on June 5.

As we noted more than two months ago, Tehran has compelling reasons to help Assad. Syria is Iran's most important ally in the region, and plays a key role in helping the mullahs advance their interests. Given its geographic location, Syria represents Israel's most immediate military threat, forcing Tel Aviv to devote a significant portion of its military resources to the menace from Damascus.

While Syria's conventional forces are no match for Israel (in a one-on-one fight), the scenario changes when you factor in the possibility of multiple, simultaneous conflicts with Syria, Hizballah, Iran and even Hamas. Damascus also has hundreds of short and medium-range missiles (along with demonstrated capabilities in chemical and biological weapons), further complicating Israel's missile defense challenges.

Syria also provides a convenient conduit for resupplying Iran's terrorist proxy, Hizballah (and the government it dominates in Lebanon). Without the assistance of Assad and his thugs, Tehran would find it much more difficult to control Lebanese affairs and might even risk another "Cedar Revolution," which ended Syria's decades-long military occupation and briefly brought democracy to that troubled country. And without Hizballah and Syria, Iran would lose its ability to put pressure on Israel, by creating problems on its borders.

Little wonder that Tehran is pulling out all the stops to keep Assad in power. The Iranians understand that the battle for the future of the Middle East is being fought in the streets of Damascus (and other Syrian cities), not Tunis, Cairo, or Aden. Iran's leaders know that an overthrow of the Assad dynasty would not only change the region politically, it would also re-energize pro-democracy forces at home. With a stagnant economy, high unemployment (especially among the young) and a fossilized, repressive regime that has been in power for more than 30 years, Iran is ripe for revolt--and the ruling class knows it.

That's why the ruling class in Tehran will do whatever it takes to prevent a successful revolution in Syria. They understand that Iran and Syria are vastly different--culturally, politically and n spiritually--but they also know that domestic discontent is rising in both countries, and a growing number of ordinary citizens are willing to risk their lives for the cause of freedom.

As goes Syria, so goes Iran. If Tehran succeeds in helping Bashir Assad crush the current revolt, it will not only secure a vital alliance, it will also send a powerful message to regime opponents at home. Since the late 1990s, Iran has become proficient at putting down internal dissent and it is gladly sharing that expertise with Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration remains largely silent on the matter. The same government that voiced outrage over the deaths of regime opponents in Libya--and used it to justify NATO military action--has said little about the death toll in Syria. At last report, Assad's goons (with likely support from their Iranian allies) were rounding up civilians who were attempting to flee into neighboring Turkey.

Once again, the silence from Washington is deafening. Sadly, that too, is no surprise.

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