With Iran’s fingerprint all over the recent bomb attacks and attempts against Israeli targets in India, Georgia, and Thailand, it now appears that Iran is creeping ever closer to Israel’s borders.
According to a recent reports in YNet News, Iran has ramped up its presence and involvement in Syria, with Revolutionary Guards and Hizbollah operatives numbering “in the high hundreds” as they conspire with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush the 11-month unrest. These Iranian functionaries and proxies are reportedly supplying the regime with intelligence, training the army, and participating in clashes.
Iran has also increased its financial assistance to Syria, as was recently exposed by a global hacking group named Anonymous. The group, which has also targeted Israeli sites, hacked into the Syrian president’s office email server and leaked documents allegedly revealing the transfer by Iran of more than $1 billion to Assad’s regime.
Meanwhile, the Arab League, frustrated by failed efforts at the UN to end the violence, passed a resolution urging its members to join together to “lend any political and monetary assistance possible” to the Syrian opposition. Under the auspices of the ‘Friends of Syria’ coalition, nations will coordinate on economic sanctions and ways to transport humanitarian aid. Armed support to the opposition will not be forthcoming, although it has not been ruled out: An Arab diplomat was quoted as saying that the Arab League “[w]ill offer the Opposition funding and diplomatic assistance at first, but if the regime’s killing continues, we must help the citizens protect themselves… The decision grants the Arab nations the possibility to defend the Syrian people.”
For its part, the Obama administration has expressed its support for the new coalition – which will also include EU members and Turkey – with Secretary of State Clinton asserting that it offered the best chance to arrive at a political solution. But the administration is wary of arming the opposition and committing to Assad’s departure by civil war. “We still believe that a political solution is what’s needed in Syria and there is still a chance for it if the international community acts quickly,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “We do not want to contribute to the further militarization of Syria, which would take the country down a dangerous and chaotic path. However, we do not rule out additional measures should the international community wait too long and the situation grow direr.”
Iran and Syria seem to implicitly grasp the hesitance paralyzing the West, and particularly the US. That is, the intensified cooperation may not only be an indication that Iran is confident Assad will retain power, but also an understanding that the unrest in Syria and curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions are linked. For if the West encourages and endorses military intervention in Syria, they will likely forfeit the cooperation of Syria’s patron -Russia- in constraining Iran’s nuclear program. This allows Iran and Syria to craft a coordinated strategy of intransigence – one that is aggressive enough to further their respective designs without losing the support of UN spoilers Russia and China. Needless to say, this complicates policy and activity on both fronts, especially for President Obama in an election year.
Be that as it may, while the international community deliberates on its next diplomatic maneuver, the Assad regime’s violent suppression of the revolt only increases. At some point, President Obama is going to have to acknowledge that Syria is already well along “a dangerous and chaotic path,” and will inevitably have to decide whether the US will lend its military might and/or insight to Assad’s overthrow.