The latest development in the saga of Syria’s popular unrest has come with the declaration by the president of Iran that Damascus should abandon its hope of using a military solution to exit the months-old crisis.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been one of the strongest backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as his government seeks to end the uprising in the villages, towns and cities of Syria. However, the Iranian politician’s remarks this week signal that not even Syria’s friends think that unquestioning support for violence is a wise policy.
Tehran’s critics can easily have a field day in comparing Ahmadinejad’s advice to Assad – “a military solution is never the right solution” – to the actions of his own government, some two years after the Iranian authorities fiercely put down street demonstrations that erupted after a controversial presidential election.
Leaving aside the story of the “Green Revolution,” Tehran is certainly taking a careful look at the scene in Syria, and making adjustments to its earlier policy.
Syrian officials might take comfort in the fact that Moscow has repeatedly signaled its intent to block any moves by the United Nations Security Council in the direction of authorizing military intervention.
But Moscow’s stance isn’t monolithic. While the Russians are affirming that certain moves by the Security Council are off the table for now, they are sending another message: At a slightly lower level, Russian officials are trying to facilitate talks between the government and the opposition, to find a way out of the crisis.
This is not to say that the support of Syria’s closest allies has suddenly eroded. But then again, Turkish officials were firmly behind Assad a few months ago, and even Washington was referring to the possibility that Assad could oversee a successful reform process.
Reports that Iran is heavily involved in helping the Syrians quell the popular unrest might be wildly exaggerated, but Tehran has considerable leverage with its ally, and the Iranians have already invested considerable financial resources to help keep the Syrian economy afloat. If the free-fall in Syria continues, politicians in Tehran will be obliged to review its stance and make even further adjustments to its rhetoric, and actions.
Syrian officials are far from enjoying a blank check of support from their allies, as the ground subtly shifts beneath their feet.
A few months ago, protestors were calling for reforming the system. Now they are calling for toppling the regime, and taking action against its leading figures.
A few months ago, defectors from the military were filming their video announcements in closed rooms, generating speculation about their actual whereabouts. Now they are appearing in public squares, and hearing the cheers of the crowds.
The only thing that has remained constant is the uncompromising stance by Damascus, and a slow but steady erosion of support, even from the country’s closest allies.