Barak Barfi writes: The execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia and the burning of Riyadh’s embassy in Iran has one again flamed Sunni-Shiite tensions and set the tiny Arab oil sheikhdoms on edge. Leaders from Lebanon to Yemen are fretting about Iranian machinations in Arab countries. But it is Tehran’s involvement in Syria that worries them the most. Tehran has bolstered its client state by dispatching senior military figures, pressing its Lebanese client Hezbollah to send fighters, providing much-needed petroleum products and extending Syria a hefty line of credit.
Without Iran’s help, the regime would likely have collapsed. Some believe Tehran has backed Syria to the hilt because of their common religious roots. Both ruling cliques claim affinity with the heterodox Shia, who are a minority in an Islamic world populated by orthodox Sunnis.
But Iran’s Syrian strategy derives less from spurious religious ties than it does from geopolitical factors. Surrounded by hostile pro-Western nations, Iran needs all the allies it can find to ensure that its regional interests are protected. [Continue reading…]