In late March, I noted that the Islamic Republic had gradually begun publicly supporting the people in each of the region's many uprisings. Furthermore, I added:
In the wake of its own violent campaign of repression, this naturally makes the regime look incredibly hypocritical, hence the P.R. spin-campaign. But Syria is different, and is in fact the regime's number-one ally in the region. Together, the two countries have a mutual defense agreement, and the Assad regime is cozy with Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in the Levant.
And so with tens of thousands of people protesting in southern Syria, and indications that the uprising is spreading throughout the country, it will be interesting to see how the Islamic Republic responds. [...] With its regional interests at stake, the Iranian leadership will likely find itself suddenly tongue-tied in supporting their aspirations.
Now it appears that the Iranian regime is not only tongue-tied with regards to the Syrian protests, but is actually helping the Assad regime suppress them. The Wall Street Journal reports:
So far, [U.S.] officials said, Iran has begun transferring to Damascus equipment to help security forces put down protests. This includes providing Syrian authorities with equipment, advice and technical know-how to help curtail and monitor internal communications, including the email and online postings that opposition groups commonly use to organize their protests and report security excesses, officials said. Some deliveries have been made and others are believed to be in the works, they said.
Iran is also sharing "lessons learned" from its 2009 crackdown on protesters who demanded the removal of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the officials said. "These guys know the best practice in this kind of situation—they've had lots of experience in this sphere," a U.S. defense official said of the Iranians.
"The Syrians don't want to see a Green Revolution in their country," the defense official added, referring to the protest movement in Iran. "The Iranians are ready to help."
Iran is clearly making gains across the Middle East. Egypt, its counterweight in the region, has expressed interest in reestablishing diplomatic relations after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who expressed a "visceral hatred" towards the Islamic Republic in a wikileaked diplomatic cable. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic is making sectarian inroads as well. The possibility of a Shiaa-led Bahraini state is suddenly looking much likelier in the near future, all while Shiaa' extremists will have more room to operate as a result of the chaos that has engulfed Yemen for the past month and made President Saleh's departure imminent. With the ongoing conflict in Libya and tensions forming in the US-Saudi relationship, the price of petrol has also shot upwards, cushioning Iran's state coffers.
But as I already noted, Syria is a vital ally -- an Alawite-Shiaa' regime ruling over a Sunni majority and its chief partner in opposing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Assad's fall and the emergence of a representative government would not only be a huge loss to the Islamic Republic, but would also significantly isolate it in the Muslim world. In fact, a regime change in Syria would make Iran's government the last in the region committed to an anti-American dogma. Even in Lebanon, where Iran's proxy Hezbollah carries considerable sway, outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri denounced Iran's "flagrant intervention" in Lebanese and Arab affairs last week. It only goes to show that the Arab Spring is slowly encompassing Iran, a country that saw its own boulevards go green only two springs ago. Time will tell how much longer the Iranian winter will last, but events in Syria will certainly play key a role in determining the trajectory of future protests within the country.