The demonstrations in Syria have created much concern in Iran.
“Our nations and our statesmen must follow events in Syria closely,” was the recommendation of the Iran-based Middle East expert, Hassan Hanizadeh.
In his interview with Tehran’s IR Diplomacy publication on May 16, he went on to warn: “Syria is a country that, if its rulers fall, the golden key to the Middle East will fall in the hands of the Israelis. This would mean that the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon (Hezbollah) as well as Palestinian resistance (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) would be destroyed. It would also mean the end of the Tehran–Damascus–Beirut axis.”
Iran’s concerns are logical. The fall of Assad would mean the loss of a key ally. It could also mean the possible loss of access to billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian investment in Syria. These range from hotels and farms to a car production factory. This is why Iran is doing its utmost to help Assad stay in power.
Assistance from Iran is reported to include security expertise, as well as equipment to help Syrian officials monitor the internet and the movement of members of the opposition in Syria.
Whether they will be enough to save Assad remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Iran will continue to help him, as any change in the status quo in Damascus could be against Iran’s interests.
What is more worrying for Iran’s leaders is that recent upheavals in Syria come at a particularly bad time for them. The crackdown against Shiites in Bahrain have pitted Iran against the Saudis, who blame Iran for the disturbance. Much to Tehran’s dismay, the entire Middle East apart from Iraq is backing the Saudis, not Iran. Even the Syrians who Iran is backing in their hour of need have put in their lot with the Saudis. This is a sign of the times for the Iranians, who due to their influence were considered a major player in the region. It now seems that Tehran is more isolated than previously realised.
As important as Syria is, the priority of Iran’s leaders is domestic stability. Here, the regime’s concerns are more serious. The recent spat between supreme leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad has created more serious divisions within an already divided regime.
For now, this will be the priority of the leadership. Events in Syria will come in second.