U.S. officials see signs that Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, has concluded that to survive the massive protests against his regime, which continued today across the country, he will have to distance himself somewhat from Iran. The protesters have largely been Sunni Muslims who have criticized Assad’s alliance with the Shiite Muslim leadership of Iran. That anger grew last week after U.S. intelligence reports revealed that Iran had secretly supplied Assad with tear gas, anti-riot gear and other tools of suppression.
Whatever happens in the anti-Assad protests, Iran is likely to lose some of its easy access to Syria, its key Arab ally. If Assad survives, he will have to establish some distance from Iran to appease Sunni protesters, U.S. officials believe. And if he’s toppled, Syria is likely to be ruled by a Sunni-dominated regime that will be more hostile to Iran.