Iran's support for Syria, a longtime ally, has manifested itself in many ways during the Arab Spring. The Iranian regime has reportedly provided Syrian officials with military, financial, and technical assistance to quash protests, while Iran's state-run media has adopted the Syrian's government narrative that Syrian security forces are battling "armed terrorist groups" and foreign conspirators, not peaceful protesters (some have even suggested that Iran is orchestrating Syria's response to its uprising behind the scenes). But, over the last month or so, Iran has gotten tougher on Syria, urging President Bashar al-Assad's regime to negotiate with protesters and heed their legitimate demands by implementing reforms. This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went even further by calling for Assad to end his crackdown on demonstrators, telling a Portuguese television station that "a military solution is never the right solution" (an "ironic assessment from a man whose own questionable re-election in 2009 prompted huge street demonstrations that were put down with decisive force," The New York Times observes). What's behind Iran's new stance on Syria?
For one thing, Iran is simply doing all it can to prevent Assad from being overthrown, even if that means stepping up its public rhetoric against his regime (privately, of course, Iran may very well be supporting Syria's brutal crackdown). "The collapse of the Assad government would be a strategic blow to Shiite-majority Iran, cutting off its most important bridge to the Arab world while empowering its main regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and its increasingly influential competitor, Turkey, both Sunni-majority nations," the Times notes. "Iran would also lose its main arms pipeline to Hezbollah in Lebanon, further undermining its ambition to be the primary regional power from the Levant to Pakistan."