Throughout the last several months as dissidents have sought to bring an end to the Assad family’s reign of terror in Syria, the regime’s most steadfast ally has been Iran. Tehran and its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries have done their best to buck up the Syrian security forces suppressing protesters as well as offering staunch diplomatic backing. But in recent days, it appears the Iranian ayatollahs are starting to think about hedging their bets.
During the past weekend, Iran’s foreign minister shockingly declared Syria’s government should listen to the “legitimate demands” of protesters. More ominous for dictator Bashar Assad is the news representatives of Iran met recently in Europe with Syrian opposition leaders. Even worse, the Jerusalem Post reports Le Figaro is saying Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also reached out to Syrian dissidents. Nasrallah apparently wanted to see if they were willing to do business with the Lebanese terrorist group whose power rests in part on their alliance with their country’s Syrian overlords. If these stories are correct, this could mean both Iran and Hezbollah are convinced the end of the murderous Assad regime is in sight.
Iran’s actions are probably the result of a number of factors. Tehran’s leaders were probably convinced Assad’s willingness to shed blood indiscriminately meant the protests would soon be suppressed. Like many observers, they have to be impressed by the dissident’s staying power. Though Assad’s hirelings have killed thousands, the willingness of ordinary Syrians to keep going back into the streets to register their disgust for their government and their desire for democratic reform was clearly underestimated by both their friends and foes. Assad’s forces have also apparently suffered from widespread defections.
The Iranians are probably also worried by the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. They were no great fans of Qaddafi, but the imminent end to the fighting there raises the possibility NATO will now start to take a more active interest in the slaughter of dissidents in Syria. Such an assumption may be giving NATO and President Obama far more credit than they deserve, but there’s no question the outcome in Libya ought to chasten Assad and his followers.
All this notwithstanding, we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about Iran’s intentions or Assad’s longevity. So long as Syria’s Alawite-led army and security forces stay loyal — and the West remains on the sidelines — Assad must still think he is in good shape. Iran will not abandon their ally unless they are certain he will fall, and we are nowhere near that point yet.
But the stories about Iran and Hezbollah touching base with Assad’s opponents have to give the Syrian dictator pause. If the protests continue and if the West ever finally begins to act on its concerns about the slaughter in the streets of Syria’s cities, then Tehran’s ayatollahs may well conclude it is time to cut Assad loose.