Syria represents one of Iran’s few allies in the Mideast. So it makes perfect sense that Iran would aid that nation in pushing down its own citizens, who are demonstrating against the dictatorship of
President Bashar al-Assad as they seek democracy.
Indeed, U.S. officials tell The Wall Street Journal that Iran is covertly aiding the Assad regime, providing equipment to put down the crowds and technical assistance to sabotage protesters' use of the Internet and cell phones.
"We believe that Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people," said an Obama administration official.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain and Yemen, two other nations facing democratic uprisings, Iran is looking at ways to back extremist Shiites who are fighting the regimes, communications intercepted by U.S. spy agencies show. Those countries’ leaders have been allied with the U.S.
Iran’s activity hasn’t constituted a major factor so far. In fact, some U.S. officials are surprised the nation hasn’t done more.
Iranian "aspirations far outpace their ability to project their influence into these places,” a White House official told The Journal. But the administration is concerned that continuing political upheaval in the region could give Iran an opportunity to play a bigger role. And officials say Iran has secretly pledged to further assist Assad if the protests grow stronger.
By publicizing Iran’s activity the Obama administration wants to let its government know the moves aren’t being ignored. "We're keeping an eye on these activities," another White House official said.
Going public also helps the U.S. reassure our Arab allies and Israel, who are worried that in its rush to support popular uprisings, the administration is ignoring the involvement of hard-line Shiites and the opportunities for Iran to exploit the chaos.
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