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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is having a particularly bad week. His country’s Prime Minister Riad Hijab has just defected and appealed to other top officials to “abandon this murderous and terrorist regime.” He joined a swelling number of military defectors. The armed opposition continues to strike close to Assad’s seat of power, bombing the state television building.
However, Assad can still count on his most loyal ally Iran, whose self-described “axis” with the Syrian regime is alive and well. During his visit to Damascus this week to meet with Assad, Saeed Jalil, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and top nuclear negotiator, declared that”Iran will never allow the resistance axis – of which Syria is an essential pillar – to break.”
Assad assured his Iranian guest that he was not about to give in to the “terrorists” who were getting their weapons from “foreign powers.”
Jalil picked up Assad’s refrain of blaming foreigners for the fighting in Syria. “Iran does not support the solution which is imposed by foreigners,” he said. “One should not allow enemies take revenge on Syrian people about defeat from resistance movement (sic).”
Iran is not a foreign power, in the eyes of its leaders, but rather a supporting “pillar” of the “axis” in “protecting the Resistance front in Syria” against its enemies, as Jalil put it while in Damascus. Jalil had also visited Beirut just before arriving in Damascus to meet with the leaders of the third pillar of the “resistance axis” – its terrorist surrogate Hezbollah.
Iran has invested substantial resources to keep Assad in power. It is supplying the regime with money, arms and training by its elite Revolutionary Guards. However, its all-out support for Assad is now starting to catch up with the Iranian government as it faces its own hostage crisis.
On August 4th, an armed opposition group seized 48 Iranians traveling by bus near Damascus, who the rebels claimed were on a “reconnaissance mission” at the time they were captured. At least one of the 48 captives was said to be an officer of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. “We promise Iran and all those who support this regime … we will strike at all (Iranian) targets in Syria,” one of the rebels said in a video. “The fate of all Iranians who operate in Syria will be the same as those we have here, either captive or killed, God willing.”
Three of the hostages were killed as a result of government shelling, according to a spokesperson for the armed opposition group. The group warned that the rest of the hostages could be killed by their captors if the government’s attacks do not cease.
The Iranian government is incensed, claiming that the captives are merely innocent Shiite pilgrims visiting religious sites in Syria. “We strongly reject the claims of some media that the kidnapped pilgrims are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” Amir Abdollahian, a deputy Foreign Minister for Arab affairs, said to Iran’s Al-Alam Arabic-language network. “All of them are pilgrims who wanted to go to religious sites.”
Predictably, Iranian leaders are blaming the United States for the plight of the hostages. While in Damascus to bolster Assad, Jalili is demanding the release of the hostages. Tehran will use “all potentials leading to release of the 48 innocent pilgrims kidnapped in Syria,” he warned.
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