The United Nations raised the death toll in Syria on Monday, stating that 2,700 have been killed in the six-month anti-government revolt gripping the country — 100 during the past week alone. In addition, according to the UN, more than 3,580 Syrians have registered as refugees in Lebanon. Not only has the sad news coming out of Syria brought on continued Western criticism, but President Bashar-al Asad’s regime is now also causing Syrian allies to back away.
In an incredible display of irony, at the end of last month, longtime Syrian ally Iran urged Asad’s regime to ease the crackdown on its dissidents and listen to the protesters’ “legitimate demands.” “The people should have the right to elect and get their freedoms,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. This from a regime that brutally murdered its own people peacefully protesting against the contested 2009 presidential election, assisted the Syrian government’s killing machine for the past six months, and continues to detain and kidnap members of its own opposition movement.
Lebanese and Syrian demonstrators in Lebanon march in support of Syria’s anti-government protesters.
Iran has clearly made a prediction: Bashar al-Asad’s days are numbered and, as an ally, the Islamic regime would feel the repercussions of his fall in a number of ways. First, Iran’s opposition movement could gain inspiration from the protesters, and use it to galvanize support to challenge the regime. Second, the Asad regime has acted as an essential instrument in Iran’s efforts to transfer rockets and missiles to Hezbollah, export the Iranian Revolution to Lebanon, and arm Hamas. A loss of Syria would certainly present a challenge to Iran’s ambitions to exert regional hegemony. Furthermore, the mullahs realize the overwhelming popular discontent that toppled the Shah in 1979 and placed them in power could easily be directed against them.
Thus far, the Arab uprisings have severely threatened American interests in the Middle East and North Africa, despite running largely consistent with American values of liberty and human rights. With Syria and Iran, however, the United States has the opportunity to mesh its interests with its values. By actively supporting the Syrian and Iranian opposition movements, the United States can potentially thwart the rise of anti-American regimes in the Middle East while simultaneously promote the cause of freedom.
Washington should now send a clear message that it will not abandon the Syrian protesters; such a signal would assure the Iranian people they have its support the next time they rise up to challenge their regime.