The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States tiptoed closer to helping the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post said the Obama administration had not decided to contribute to the fund that Gulf States have started to pay for arms for the rebels. But let no one say President Obama was doing nothing to support the effort to halt the massacres being perpetrated by the Assad regime. The U.S. is providing those aiding the rebels with “assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, Washington is merely offering advice.
But while some optimists are interpreting this as a signal to Syrian ally Iran that the president means business, Tehran is sending a more significant message to the West than the free advice offered by Washington. Reuters reports Iran is continuing to export military equipment to Syria that Assad is using to kill thousands. Rather than being intimidated by the half-hearted and belated help being extended to the rebels, Iran has been violating a United Nations Security Council ruling that imposed an embargo on giving arms to Assad. A UN panel has issued a report detailing Iran’s shipment of arms to Syria that also discussed their efforts to evade sanctions aimed at halting their nuclear program.
Iran has no intention of standing by while Assad — their most important ally in the region — is driven from power. From the beginning of the protests against Assad’s rule last year, Tehran has been pumping in arms and “volunteers” from both Iran and their Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries. Combined with Assad’s willingness to slaughter as many of his compatriots as necessary, Iran’s support has enabled the Syrian to survive a rebellion and foreign sanctions.
Those who foolishly expect Iran to give up their nuclear ambitions need to understand Syria is a test case that illustrates that the ayatollahs are playing for keeps. With European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton apparently encouraging them to believe they can beat the West and continue refining uranium, they likely believe they can face the EU down on Syria as well. The arms pouring into Damascus show the ayatollahs are convinced they are tougher than President Obama. Until the president convinces them otherwise, the odds of stopping their drive for nuclear weapons or ousting Assad are negligible.