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December 8, 2014 8:57 am

Don’t Give Iran a Free Pass on Syria”‹

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avatar by Bob Feferman


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waving to an admiring crowd. Photo: Syrianpresidency Instagram account.

Last year, much attention was paid to President Obama’s decision not to launch airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria. Lost in much of the debate over “red lines” and global national security was the fact that Iran has long considered Bashar al-Assad’s Syria to be a loyal client state of Tehran, providing Damascus with extensive military and economic aid. The result? A 21st century problem from hell that will only be solved when the international community recognizes the nefarious role the Iranian regime has played in enabling Assad’s carnage.

The recent CBS News 60 Minutes segment on Syrian refugees should have been a wakeup call and moved citizens of the world to action. In the report, we learned that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has resorted to a new military tactic to subdue the popular uprising: mass starvation.

As the international community seeks to negotiate a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, we must not give Iran a free pass on its support for Bashar al-Assad. If we fail, we may as well admit that we have learned nothing from history.

The shocking images of starving children we saw in the 60 Minutes report were reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust. As CBS reporter Scott Pelley said, “Starvation is a weapon in the war that began as an uprising against the dictator Bashar al Assad.” According to the report, the situation was so bad in one Syrian city, “…The people had eaten the dogs and the cats and were running low on leaves and grass.”

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“‹The one thing not mentioned in the CBS report is the central role that Iran has played in the Syrian tragedy. Today, there are 200,000 dead Syrians and millions of refugees for two reasons: Iran and Hezbollah.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, Iran has provided massive economic and military support to assist Bashar al-Assad in the brutal repression of the uprising. In the meantime, an indifferent world remains silent, especially over what amount to crimes against humanity.

We can’t say that we don’t know what Iran has been doing in Syria. Last year, the New Yorker published an in-depth profile of General Qassem Suleimani, Commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In the article, author Dexter Filkins described the pivotal role that Iran is playing in Syria under the leadership of Suleimani.

He wrote, “Suleimani began flying into Damascus frequently so that he could assume personal control of the Iranian intervention. ‘He’s running the war himself,’ an American defense official told me. In Damascus, he is said to work out of a heavily fortified command post in a nondescript building, where he has installed a multinational array of officers: the heads of the Syrian military, a Hezbollah commander, and a coördinator of Iraqi Shiite militias, which Suleimani mobilized and brought to the fight.”

The facts are sufficient to indict Iran for its role in the murder of innocent Syrian civilians. The question remains: what will the world do with these facts?

If the international community behaved like the United States, then things would be much different. Because the United States designates Iran as a State Sponsor of Terror; it is illegal for any American company to do any business in Iran except for the sale of food and medicine. Regrettably, the same is not true of too many of our friends and allies.

For many countries, business as usual with Iran trumps moral considerations or human rights. This is especially true of our European allies. With the exception of the European oil embargo, hundreds of major European companies continue do business in Iran.

What can we as individuals do in an indifferent world?

We can sign the petition to the representative of Iran to the United Nations organized by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) that demands Iran end its support for terrorism and the regime of Bashar al-Assad. We can choose not to buy the products of companies that do business in Iran, and we can choose not to invest in these companies. We can also urge our representatives in the U.S. Congress to support tough economic sanctions should Iran fail to reach a framework for a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program by next March.

Although a comprehensive agreement with Iran over the nuclear program won’t put an end to Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad, there is no doubt that an Iran with nuclear weapons would feel emboldened to do even worse.

Most importantly, we should remember the faces of the starving children in Syria and understand that we have a choice: we can remain indifferent to their suffering or we can choose to make a difference.

Bob Feferman is Outreach Coordinator for the non-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear iran (UANI)

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