Assad Regime Runs out of Options for Suppressing Unrest
The last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue (No. 488 from April 8) described Syrian President Bashar Assad as leaning on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even the US as his support at home crumbled.
A week later, in a sign of the breakneck tempo of Middle East turmoil, the Syrian president is treating the Saudis as his arch-enemy. This turn of events came about as a result of Iranian whispers in Assad's ear that the Saudis are double-crossing him. On the one hand, they were telling the Shammar tribes which inhabit southeastern Syria (as well as areas in Saudi Arabia and Jordan) not to take part in the disturbances against the Assad regime; on the other – so say the Iranians – Saudi intelligence agents are stirring up trouble in the main Syrian cities through the Muslim Brotherhood and armed gangs deployed by the ousted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The beleaguered Syrian president decided to believe the Iranian charges against Saudi Arabia, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian and intelligence sources report, after a four and-a-half hour phone conversation with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Saturday April 9.
Khamenei said he had "solid intelligence" that Saudi clandestine networks were behind the protests and armed uprisings overtaking southern and northwestern Syria. The Iranian leader claimed that one of the private intelligence services employed by his bureau had brought him proof of Saudi networks operating out of a special Saudi headquarters dedicated to overthrowing Bashar Assad.
That headquarters, he alleged, was located in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and directed by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council. According to Khamenei, Bandar ran a hands-on operation and was personally present in Amman at least four days every week.
Iranian media paint Saudi Arabia as Syria's archenemy
As for Hariri, the Iranian leader said he had visited Riyadh secretly several times in recent weeks to coordinate his side of the operation with Bandar, whom he had also met in Jordan at least once, to the knowledge of Iranian intelligence.
Bandar was described in this phone call as maintaining excellent ties with the Israeli Mossad and most probably drawing on its inside information for his campaign in Syria.
On Sunday, April 10, the day after the phone call, the Iranian media launched a vicious attack on Saudi Arabia, openly accusing it of attempting to topple the Assad regime. Iranian Press TV charged: "A probe into the root causes of the latest events in Syria shows that the revolt is mainly supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan."
Deraa [the southern epicenter of the unrest against the Assad regime] is the birthplace of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to the people in the Syrian city, said the Iranian report and continued:
Saudi Arabia and Jordan continue their attempts to cause unrest in Syria. The oil kingdom, which often bows to US and Israeli policies in the region, is trying to destabilize Bashar Assad's government by undermining his rule. But, say the Iranians, considering the Syrian government's experience in resolving difficult crises, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia and Jordan will succeed.
Jordan's King Abdullah hastened to send Jordanian Senate President Taher Masri to Damascus this week with a letter denying any involvement in the unrest in Syria or the presence of a Saudi anti-Assad campaign headquarters in Amman.
Assad was not convinced.
Assad runs out of propaganda and crackdown tactics
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report gratification in Tehran over the Syria ruler's acceptance of Khamenei's spiel. Its object of course is not to help Assad but to heap the pressure on Saudi Arabia for its military assistance to Bahrain.
Iran is painting the Saudis as exploiting Arab uprisings to usurp other Middle East regimes. This gambit diverts attention from Iranian interference in the affairs of Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, the Palestinians and Lebanon. Portraying the Saudis as arch-villains also gives Iran a pretext for letting down the Shiites in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and falling short of actively propping up the Assad regime. It allows Tehran to claim it has its hands full with fending off a power as formidable as Saudi Arabia. All those minorities will have to wait patiently until Tehran can come and free them.
Assad is meanwhile running out of propaganda and operational options for fighting off the constantly burgeoning revolt against his rule.
The protesters came up with a new ploy to counter the relentless live fire directed against them by the pro-Assad Shabbiba gangs leading the nationwide crackdown: Wednesday, April 14, women and children surged on the streets causing some of the soldiers and gunmen to hesitate before opening fire.
Those who hesitated were quickly removed.
The Syrian ruler has started sending armed men to storm every house in defiant centers and seize the men. This operation went forward Wednesday and Thursday in the village of Al-Bayda near the coastal city of Banias. This tactic can hardly be applied in large cities with populations of hundreds of thousands – certainly not in Syria's second largest town, Aleppo which has 2.5 million inhabitants.