Turning the screws on Iran, the U.N. Security Council has banned foreign shipments of arms to Tehran for its unwillingness to allow inspections on its uranium enrichment program. Making it possible to help Bashar al-Assad withstand a growing insurgency, new reports indicate that Iran has supplied Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas with arms to defend al-Assad’s regime. Accusing the West and other Sunni-backed Gulf States of fueling the insurgency against Syria, al-Assad forcefully rejected the West’s attempts to undermine his rule. U.S. President Barack Obama has sat on the fence supplying arms or cash to Syrian rebels, not knowing which groups, including al-Qaeda, back the rebels. Conservatives—including left-leaning former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton—backed a Syrian no-fly zone, to help Syrian rebels defeat the al-Assad regime.
Escalating military assistance to Damascus, Iran has not abandoned al-Assad, despite denunciations by the Arab League and other Gulf States. Iran’s Supreme Leader Al Khamenei and fiery President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back al-Assad because of his Shiite roots, the same minority branch of Islam practiced in Iraq and Iran but despised by Waahabi Sunnis, primarily in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. While the European Union and Great Britain oppose al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on rebel groups, Russia and China continue to support Demascus. Russia and China have opposed strong Syrian condemnations on the U.N. Security Council, especially coming from the U.S., EU and Great Britain. Given the failed revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Russia and China see nothing good from arming various Sunni factions, including al-Qaeda and Hamas, to topple al-Assad.
Pushed by conservatives in the U.S. Congress, Obama has resisted attempts to supply rebels with arms and cash. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton backed Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) no-fly zone without knowing the composition of Syrian rebels. When Syrian rebels seized 21 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers March 6, it became clear that rebel forces would stoop to any level to achieve their political aims. Iran gives support to al-Assad because they’re natural allies against Sunni religious groups hell-bent on ending Shiite rule. “The Iranians really are supporting massively the regime,” said a Senior Western diplomat. “They have been increasing their support for the last three, four months through Iraq’s airspace and now trucks. And the Iraqis are looking the other way,” admitting, after 4,886 U.S. deaths and about $2 trillion, Iraq’s close ties to Tehran.
U.S. foreign policy on the March 11, 2011 Syrian uprising has tilted against al-Assad, primarily because of his hostile response to Israel. While it’s true that al-Assad is no friend of Israel, it’s also true that current rebel groups are more dangerous enemies of the Jewish State than Syria. “They [Iran] are now a crucial role,” arming Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas to fight a proxy war against Damascus. Iran is “hardly hiding the support it’s giving the [Syrian] regime, supporting Hezbollah. U.S. officials have to look beyond Israel’s historic enemies to far more pernicious Palestinian and Arab groups backing Syrian rebels. While U.S. foreign policy usually opposes Iran, Tehran has the policy right when it comes to Syria. Leaving al-Assad in power is preferable to turning over Syria to al-Qaeda or other radical Sunni groups hell-bent on establishing another Taliban-like state.
Instead of alienating Russia and China, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should listen to Russian and Chinese arguments to defend al-Assad. No one wants to see more bloodshed heaped on Syrian civilians. If Western officials understood the bigger picture, they wouldn’t automatically oppose Russia and China, backing Syrian rebels. “Unfortunately the situation in Syria and the whole Middle East region is becoming more and more delicate and risky because of foreign interference and funneling of arms to extremist groups,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman to Iran’s U.N. mission. U.S. officials can’t be blinded by Iran’s pursuit of enriched uranium. Iran’s pursuit of weapons grade uranium has nothing to do with Syria’s civil war. Opposing Tehran’s uranium enrichment program doesn’t lend support to toppling al-Assad.
Shipping arms to Damascus by whatever means necessary, Iran defies U.N. sanctions but goes to the aid an old ally trying to hang on to power against a Western-backed insurgency. While the U.S. Treasury Department has fingered Iran Air, Mahan Air, and Yas Air as supporting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and supplying arms to Syria. “The more sophisticated gear includes parts for various hardware such as unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], shore-to-sea missiles and surface-to-air ballistic missiles [SSMs],” said the Treasury Dept. report. “Other weapons are being used by Syrian security forces, pro-Assad shabbiha militiamen and Lebanese Hezbollah,” show that Iran is dead serious about backing al-Assad and preventing revolution. Instead of playing cat-and-mouse with Iran, the U.S., EU and Great Britain need to consult with Russia and China to get their policies right.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.