* Iran one of Syria's few remaining friends in region
* Says must defend it from Washington and its Arab allies
* Media focused more on events in Bahrain, Britain
By Robin Pomeroy
TEHRAN, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Beset by civil unrest at home and
lambasted by the West and his Arab neighbours for his violent
crackdown on dissent, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad can
count on one firm ally: Iran.
In a country that knows a thing or two about diplomatic
isolation, Iran's politicians and media describe the Damascus
government as an outpost of resistance to Israel that has been
set upon by Washington and its lackeys in the region.
While several Gulf Arab countries have withdrawn their
ambassadors in protest at the violence , and
countries once close to Damascus, Russia and Turkey, have turned
harshly critical , Iran is the
only big country still backing Syria, arguing anything else
would spell disaster.
"In regard to Syria we are confronted with two choices. The
first is for us to place Syria in the mouth of a wolf named
America and change conditions in a way that NATO would attack
Syria," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian
parliament's foreign affairs committee.
"That would mean we would have a tragedy added to our other
tragedies in the world of Islam."
"The second choice would be for us to contribute to the
termination of the clashes in Syria," Boroujerdi said. "The
interests of the Muslim people command that we mobilise
ourselves to support Syria as a centre of Palestinian
A senior cleric pressed the message home. "It is the duty of
all Muslims to help stabilise Syria against the destructive
plots of America and Israel," said Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem
Iran also used troops to put down mass protests following
the disputed 2009 presidential election. Iranian leaders also
described those demonstrations as a Western plot.
ISLAMIC, POPULAR AND ANTI-AMERICAN
Iran had hoped the Arab Spring, something Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dubbed the "Islamic Awakening", would
spell the end of U.S.-backed autocracies and usher in an era of
Muslim unity to face-down the West and Israel.
Khamenei used the June anniversary of the death of Iran's
revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to tell the
nation: "Our stance is clear: wherever a movement is Islamic,
popular and anti-American, we support it."
Without mentioning Syria by name, he continued: "If
somewhere a movement is provoked by America and Zionists, we
will not support it. Wherever America and the Zionists enter the
scene to topple a regime and occupy a country, we are on the
Mohammad Marandi, an associate professor at the University
of Tehran, said Iran's support for Syria was based on a shared
interest in helping resistance to Israel -- both countries
support Hamas and Hezbollah -- and that continuing to back Assad
while he reforms Syria's one-party system was imperative.
"Iran has always believed that Syria should not be weakened,
because the Israeli regime will certainly take advantage of any
weakness," Marandi told Reuters.
"In any case, real reforms can only be carried out in a
peaceful environment. The Western and pro-Western Arab media
campaign against Syria is intended to destabilise the country
and to prevent Syria from implementing reforms that will keep
Syria strong and an anti-Israeli government in power."
He played down media reports of Iran increasing aid to
Syria. "I have not heard of any extraordinary aid delivery,
except in the Western media or media outlets owned by despotic
While civil unrest in Syria has not gone unreported in Iran,
it has received far less attention than uprisings in other parts
of the region, particularly Bahrain where Saudi Arabia helped a
Sunni monarchy put down protests led by majority Shi'ites.
In recent days, as Western media, though banned from working
in Syria, have reported a growing death toll, Iranian television
has focused more attention on unrest in Britain that some
Iranian journalists have described as a "civil war".
With Gulf Arab countries turning against Assad, and Turkey,
a bridge between the Middle East and the West, taking a tougher
stance, Iranian newspapers reflect Tehran's growing isolation.
After distancing his country from Israel and moving closer
to the Muslim world since coming to power in 2003, Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan surprised some in Iran with his
volte face. "In Syria, the state is pointing guns at its own
people ... Turkey's message to Assad is very clear: stop all
kinds of violence and bloodshed."
The hardline Qods daily said Turkey, instead of showing
support for Syria and Iran, had capitulated to U.S. pressure.
"If Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government does not change its
political behaviour towards Syria, Turkey will be the main loser
of the Syrian events if Damascus gets out of the current
crisis," it wrote in a recent editorial.
The papers reserved their harshest words for Iran's Gulf
Arab neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, whose relations with
the mostly non-Arab Iran have become increasingly strained in
"Stabbing each other's backs has now become a custom among
Arab countries, like the way they previously betrayed Palestine,
Libya, Iraq and Sudan. The current betrayal of Syria should come
as no surprise," Siyasat-e Ruz daily said in an editorial.
"They are still under this illusion that convergence with
America can help them preserve their establishment and restore
their lost status in the region," the conservative paper said.
They have turned into puppets for the goals of the West."
Reformist daily Arman said Saudi Arabia and Bahrain appeared
to be drawing the battle lines for a future regional conflict.
"They want to psychologically prepare the atmosphere so that
if there is a conflict with Syria and Iran supports it they are
standing on the opposite side and against Iran," Arman said.
"All the countries that want to settle a score with Iran
would be happy if Iran entered such a conflict and then, in the
name of the international community, they would harm Iran."
The paper noted the urgent need for Assad to make good on
his promised political reforms but with a death toll there which
it put at 2,000, "it seems late for Bashar al-Assad to get out
of this critical situation".
The reformist daily concluded that it might soon be time for
Tehran to rethink its staunch support for Assad.
"If the Syria situation continues then it's time for Iran to
think about its long term interests," it concluded, saying
unconditional support for Assad might leave Iran supporting a
government "that has been thrown out of power ... That can have
no benefits for itself or Iran."
(Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri and Ramin Mostafavi)
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