The Syrian regime’s appalling crackdown — which has left around 6000 dead — has been one of the most violent government responses to the Arab Spring’s wave of uprisings. On Friday, bad became worse when, according to conservative counts, 181 people were massacred in the Syrian city of Homs by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
The Syrian military has continued its shelling of Homs into this week, and, on Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that tanks were entering residential areas within the city. Their presumable target is Bab Amr, “the restive heart of the uprising in Homs.” Reports on Friday claim that tanks have begun massing outside of opposition neighborhoods and that the death toll has reached 300.
While the ongoing bloodshed in Syria is, in large part, a testament to the ruling regime’s brutality, the violent situation there has been exacerbated by the actions of a few key foreign nations. China and Russia have done a great deal to diplomatically shield the beleaguered President of Syria, and Russia continues to sell weapons to his regime.
Iran’s government, which has been eager to prop up a longtime, crucial ally, shares a particularly large portion of blame. Iran has played an especially extensive role in supporting Assad.
In May of last year a ‘senior western diplomat’ noted an increase in Iranian personnel stationed in Syria in the wake of increasing unrest. Reports came out that Iran was providing the Syrian regime with weapons, riot gear, and surveillance assistance.
In August, the Turkish government intercepted an Iranian plane bound for Syria, holding assault rifles, machine guns, and mortars. Western intelligence officials claimed that Iran was providing Assad with $23 million to build a base in Latakia that would facilitate further arms shipments.
An ex-member of Syria’s secret police, now taking refuge in Turkey, allegedly told The Telegraph that snipers from Iran were also sent into Syria to assist with the repression of protestors.The Iranian government has even reportedly reprimanded Hamas for failing to endorse Assad’s regime.
Last week Iran held a conference on the Arab Spring– what they deem to be an ‘Islamic Awakening’ akin to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Events in Syria were conveniently sidestepped for much of the meeting and opponents of the Syrian regime were not invited.
In a speech at the conference, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad suggested that the ongoing Syrian uprising can be attributed to a Western plot “to foment sectarian conflict” at Assad’s expense. On Monday, a top member of the Syrian National Council announced that Kassam Salimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force had arrived in Syria to aid Assad.
More Focus on Iran
It is true that, in this article, much attention has been given to the role of the Iranian government in the Syrian crackdown. This extra scrutiny and criticism should not be mistaken for another brazen, empty-headed rallying cry, endorsing military action against Iran.
Our government has done well to denounce and expose China and Russia for providing Assad with various forms of cover. Closing our embassy in Syria and pledging support to opponents of the regime was also admirable. However, more thoughtful and effective work could be done to curb Iranian aid to the Syrian regime.
Iran’s unwavering support has undoubtedly contributed to Assad’s durability, distinguishing his regime from those that have collapsed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Such support can and should be stopped with a steadfast commitment to peace, humanitarianism, and creative diplomacy.
In recent months, much focus has been given to Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, a supposed threat to the stability of the Middle East, if not humanity, in the long-term. While the prospect of a nuclear Iran is certainly concerning and should be dealt with, the nation is already threatening the stability of the Middle East and disregarding humanity by escalating the Syrian crisis.
In the short-term, we must turn our attention to the crisis at hand. We owe that much to the brutalized Syrian people.
Through its implementation of a host of sanctions and embargoes, the West has accumulated quite a bit of leverage against the Iranian regime– Apparently, not enough leverage to derail its nuclear program, but perhaps, enough to convince it to turn its back on an ailing ally. Our government should consider using some of these ineffective sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program as bargaining chips in our pursuit of a resolution to the Syria crisis.
The West and the bulk of the Arab World appear intent on ousting Assad, so eventually, the hypocritical choice to support a brutal foreign regime will backfire on China, Russia, and Iran. In the meantime the people of Syria continue to suffer.