U.S. Officials: Iran Aiding Syria in Crackdown on anti-Assad Protests

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. defense officials indicate Iran is doing what it can to prevent a key ally against Israel from being washed away in the recent wave of Mideast turmoil.

Iran is secretly assisting Bashar Assad's repression of anti-government protests across Syria, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, adding that Tehran was also aiding Shi'te hardliners in Yemen and Bahrain.

The report joined remarks by a State Department official on Thursday, who said Washington was "troubled" by reports of Iran's links to the protests' suppression, saying it believed "that there is credible information that Iran is assisting Syria in quelling the protesters."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad AP 3/10/2010

"I'm not going to get into details about that material assistance but, you know, it's of real concern to us," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Syria, however, issued a denial following Toner's remarks, saying "If [the U.S.] has the evidence, why doesn't it announce it?"

The Syrian State TV announcement, quoting a Foreign Ministry official, denied reports of Iranian involvement, saying there was "no truth to the announcement by the U.S. State Department about the presence of evidence of Iranian help to Syria in quelling the protests."

Thousands of Syrians have taken to city streets across the country in recent weeks to protest Assad's rule, inspired by popular revolutions in the Arab world.

The demonstrations in Syria have thus far been significantly smaller than the protests in the North African states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

However, the brutality with which Assad's regime had chosen to repress theses protests has garnered severe, if laconic, criticism from the United States, with reports claiming security forces both targeting civilians and preventing wounded protesters from receiving medical care.

On Thursday, U.S. officials speaking with the Wall Street Journal said they believed Iran's influence was in play the these suppressions, acting out of the fear of losing a key regional ally.

While U.S. officials do not claim to have evidence that Iran had initiated the violent suppressions, Iran's aid is substantial, with one administration official saying Washington believed "Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people."

U.S. officials said they believed Iran's of Assad regime reflected Tehran's concerns about losing a critical regional ally and military partner against Israel.

One thing Iran is sharing with Syria, the Wall Street Journal report claims, is "lessons learned" from Tehran's own suppression of state-wide protests that erupted in the wake of the 2009 elections.

"These guys know the best practice in this kind of situation—they've had lots of experience in this sphere," a U.S. defense official said, adding that Syria was not interested "to see a Green Revolution in their country."

"The Iranians are ready to help," he added.

The purpose of disclosing Tehran's involvement in Syria's suppression of anti-government protest, U.S. officials said, was to ensure Iran understood the U.S. was watching its moves. "We're keeping an eye on these activities," another Obama administration official said.

Iranian diplomats did not immediately respond to the Wall Street Journal's request for comment.