As Syrian President Bashar Assad fights for his dictatorship's survival, Tehran has increased support for its top regional ally. The number of Hizballah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria to help Assad suppress the opposition is in the "high hundreds," Ynetnews correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai reports.
While some Iranian and Hizballah operatives are involved in the actual fighting to suppress opposition forces, most train Assad's troops on reconnaissance and weapons maintenance and provide intelligence to the Syrian military.
Syrian documents show Iran has provided more than $1 billion in financial assistance to help Assad overcome international sanctions for massacring his own people. Haaretz reports that a group calling itself Anonymous hacked into the emails of 78 employees in Assad's office.
In the email account belonging to Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Azzam, hackers found a pair of documents dealing with Iranian-Syrian relations. One document repeatedly refers to Syria's wish to "learn from the Iranian experience" in evading sanctions.
Approximately one-fifth of Syria's gross domestic product comes from oil sales. But the European Union, the largest customer of Syrian oil, has imposed an embargo and is discussing new sanctions against the Assad regime, which needs the money to pay the salaries of loyalist military and hired thugs who do its bidding.
The documents show that Tehran and Damascus discussed Iranian purchases of Syrian oil and Iranian plans to supply Syria with spare parts for its domestic oil industry. They discussed ways to bypass sanctions on air cargo and other flights by creating an air and ground corridor through Iraq. They also discussed creating a joint Iranian-Syrian bank to transfer money through China and Russia, who have worked to shield both rogue regimes from sanctions.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials are monitoring Syrian chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. Washington's concerns have focused on the possibility that these weapons could fall into the hands of groups like al-Qaida, which has called for a jihad to drive Assad from power. At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey stated that Washington is "watching the trend lines to make sure [the chemical and biological weapons] are still under control of the regime."
The Syrian people may not find that prospect entirely reassuring. Earlier this week, a Syrian army defector who served in the country's chemical warfare administration said that the military had used nerve gas (in violation of numerous international conventions) during murderous raids directed at Homs.
The defector, a captain identified as bd al-Salam Ahmed Abdul Razek, said the gas was used under supervision of Russian and Iranian experts who instructed Syrian forces on how and when to use them.