Reports of recent months suggest that Tehran is playing a large role in shaping and supporting the current crack down on protesters by the Syrian regime. This leads to numerous important questions such as: just how much support is Iran providing - particularly if support will limit the impact of sanctions; and how strong is the Iranian commitment to Assad - will they jump ship when it looks certain that Assad will go or will they be prepared to fight side by side with the Syrian regime if the situation escalates?
In recent months there have been reports of security forces in Syria being heard speaking Farsi, rumours that Iran has agreed to fund a military base in Latakia through which Iranian military hardware could be transferred to Syria (which Iran has denied), and reports from a former Syrian security officer that he knew of Iranian troops and snipers on the ground in Syria. Such reports are leading many to suggest that Syria is basing its response to the protesters on Iranian advice – most noting that the Iranian regime has experience in quelling protests. The Asia Times Online has reported speaking with an Iranian intelligence source who admitted Iran has provided support in the fields of psychological warfare and information management but denied Iran was exporting riot control techniques. He also indicated, however, that some Iranian officials felt a ‘deep unease’ about the methods being employed in Syria.
Syria is a key ally for Iran in the region, forming an integral part of what is often called the ‘axis of resistance’ aimed challenging the role of the US and Israel in the region. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman this week reiterated support for the regime saying that Iran sees no justification for any Western intervention in the internal affairs of Syria. There is no doubt that Iran is supporting the Assad regime, but one must ask, how far this support will extend if the situation escalates. Some Iranian foreign policy experts have already started questioning whether Iran is setting itself up for a fall being so closely aligned to the Assad regime. Unconditional support risks Iran being left out in the cold if the Assad regime falls.