U.S. officials say Iran is dispatching increasing numbers of trainers and advisers — including members of its elite Quds Force — into Syria to help crush anti-government demonstrations that are threatening to topple Iran’s most important ally in the region.
The influx of Iranian manpower is adding to a steady stream of aid from Tehran that includes not only weapons and riot gear but also sophisticated surveillance equipment that is helping Syrian authorities track down opponents through their Facebook and Twitter accounts, the sources said. Iranian-assisted computer surveillance is believed to have led to the arrests of hundreds of Syrians seized from their homes in recent weeks.
The United States and its allies long have accused Iran of supporting repressive or violent regimes in the region, including Syria’s government, the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many previous reports, mostly provided by Western officials, have described Iranian technical help in providing Syria with riot helmets, batons and other implements of crowd control during 10 weeks of demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad.
The new assertions — provided by two U.S. officials and a diplomat from an allied nation, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence — are clearly aimed at suggesting deepening involvement of Iranian military personnel in Syria’s brutal crackdown against anti-Assad demonstrators.There was no response on Friday to requests for comment left with the Syrian Embassy and Iranian interests section in Washington.
In the account provided by the diplomat and the U.S. officials, the Iranian military trainers were being brought to Damascus to instruct Syrians in techniques Iran used against the nation’s “Green Movement’’ in 2009, the diplomat said. The Iranians were brutally effective in crushing those protests.
Officers from Iran’s notorious Quds Force have played a key role in Syria’s crackdown since at least mid-April, said the U.S. and allied officials. They said U.S. sanctions imposed against the Quds Force in April were implicitly intended as a warning to Iran to halt the practice.
For all of the momentous events going on in Syria, the protests there have not received nearly as much attention as did the protests in Egypt. Part of this is understandable; despite the protests in Egypt, the country remained an open society, while Syria is a closed one, which means that the Mubarak government allowed more media coverage of Egyptian protests than the Assad government allows when it comes to Syrian protests. Even the effort on the part of the Egyptian government to shut down the Internet did little in the long term to prevent transparency.
Nevertheless, it still represents something of a media failure when the protests in Syria don’t become the topic for fervent national discussion that the protests in Egypt were. I realize that it is harder to get pictures out of Syria, and that it is harder to conduct interviews with people on the ground there. But that doesn’t mean that media organizations can’t organize comprehensive roundtables with Syria and Middle East experts, talk about the issue, and educate the American public on what is going on. Again, we saw a lot of this when it came to covering the protests in Egypt, but media organizations have not used all of the tools at their disposal to give the same kind of coverage to the events in Syria. As a consequence, the Syrian people suffer a lot more than they may have to, and the regime in Iran is able to pursue its foreign policy ends to the detriment of the Syrian people, of stability in the region, and of the interests of the United States and its allies.