I spoke with Kurdi in a rundown office in an apartment. A native of Hama, the 30-year-old former signals officer in a Syrian antiaircraft unit described to me how he came to the insurgency.
.He was stationed near Daraa, a town close to the Jordanian border and the birthplace of the uprising, in mid-2011. He recalled his shock at witnessing the use of anti-aircraft munitions against civilian demonstrators in the area, as the Assad regime sought to murder the revolt in its cradle.
The use of these munitions was intended as a tool of terror. Their bullets kill people no more or less than regular ordnance. But from the regime’s point of view, they had the additional attraction of setting the bodies of those they hit on fire, turning the corpse into a symbol of deterrence to all who would challenge Assad’s rule. What they also did was to make Ayham al-Kurdi and others reassess their view of the government. Kurdi made his decision to desert, and help set up the beginnings of armed resistance to Assad.
Other defectors write of "non-Arabic speaking" volunteers who are aiding the regime. The volunteers are, of course, Iranian. As we've observed in previous posts, Tehran understands what's at stake in Syria. The toppling of Assad would represent a strategic setback for Iran and its regional ambitions. No wonder Tehran has given Assad upwards of $6 billion in aid, and sent proxies from its Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah to the fight in Syria. Meanwhile, the rebels are battling with a combination of light weapons and sheer determination. So far, they have fought Assad to a draw.
While no one is talking seriously about western military intervention in Syria, there is much we can do. For starters, the rebels need better weapons, communications gear and medical supplies. It would also be helpful to stir things up in Iran, forcing the mullahs to look inward and devote resources to their domestic situation. Tehran is already using a similar tactic in Bahrain, re-igniting a Shiite insurgency against the pro-western (and Sunni-dominated) ruling family.
We've missed golden opportunities during previous uprisings in Iran, most recently in 2009. It would be tragic if we allow Tehran to rescue their most important ally, and consolidate their power in the Levant.