Abbas Milani

Iranian Clerics About to Fall?

Iran’s clerics are afraid.  Very very afraid.  With Syria in shambles, they rightly wonder if their alliance with Bashar al-Assad and his cronies will herald the end of their own despotic reign.

The Syrian regime has been Iran’s most reliable—indeed sole—ally in the Muslim Middle East. Tehran has handed over billions of dollars to keep Syria in its grip. In recent months there have even been allegations that units of the Iranian military—and its special forces, the Qods Brigade—have been sent to Syria and used as Assad’s personal storm troopers.

Yet as Syrian democrats continue to surprise the world with their tenacity, the long-sustained unity between Syria and Iran is beginning to fray. The Iranian regime’s public statements are discordant. And this is both tactical—intended to confuse the world, and existential, reflecting the massive fissures and warring factions in the power centers of Iran. Initially, Iran offered unmitigated support for Assad. Today they are pulling back.  The Iranian clerics want to claim both that the Arab Spring was inspired by their own Islamic model and yet Syria is meant to be the exception—nothing but a conspiracy designed and acted out by Israel and the United States.

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(photo credit: Pooyan Tabatabaei)

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