Since the outbreak of the now termed “Arab Spring” protests across the Arab World Iran has been actively supporting the protestors in their media except in two cases. The first and not as important case is Libya, which seems to stem more from a disdain of Western policy regarding the issue than a liking of Qaddafi. Second is the more important case of Syria.
In the protests in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and specifically Egypt the protestors have been given legitimacy from the state of Iran for their wanting to shed themselves of their respective dictatorships. In regards to Bahrain and Yemen it stems more from Shia majority purged by the Sunni minority opinion. In regards to Egypt, Iran sees an opportunity for a regional competitor to get knocked down a few rungs of the ladder. The rivalry between Egypt/Saudi Arabia and Iran is nothing new to any readers of the Middle East and is perfectly being played out here.
What is important is the role Iran is taking towards Syria and its protest movement. The protestors have been called agitators and terrorists by the Iranian media and have been airing “confessions” of collaboration with Israel of suspected “agitators.” This is no surprise to anyone who has studied the relationship between Iran and Syria since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Hafez Assad, disillusioned with the Baath party leadership in Iraq during the 70s looked for ways to thwart any rivalry for Fertile Crescent domination. This was best achieved after the Shah was overthrown and a more revolutionary party took power in Iran. Syria was one of the only countries (if not only) that did not support Iraq during the 8 year-long disastrous and massive life losing Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88. Syria openly helped Iran if nothing else create a stalemate situation to drain the Iraqi potential for expansion anywhere in the Middle East but specifically towards Syria.
Since this time Syria and Iran have had common interests in Lebanon specifically after the rise of Hizballah in 1983. Iran views Hizballah and the Shia there as an oppressed and occupied (from Israel from 82-2000) majority being used as pawns. The Syrians on the other hand had been occupying Lebanon since 1975 and would ally with any group at any time to serve its interests. Hizballah has fit this description for some time now which has formed an axis. Iran wishes to maintain Hizballah for ideology, Syria has the means and influence to transport weaponry, and Hizballah keeps a Shia beacon in Lebanon for Iran. In addition for Syria, Hizballah always acts as a deterrent for potential Israel invasion plans in the northern region of the Fertile Crescent. Since its perceived victory in 2000 of Israel withdrawing its occupation over most of Lebanon and the 33 day war in 2006 Hizballah has been seen as a potential blocker of Israeli aggression, which Syria appreciates. Also controlling Hizballah for Syria is important as a form of a bargaining chip in negotiations.
Although the issue may never get resolved due to the state sovereignty of maintaining relations with whomever one chooses, it still gives Syria something to bargain with. Syria and Iran have been and will continue, pending vast developments in the region, developing their relationship as a potential regional partnership to counter the Egyptian/Saudi Arabian/Israeli (yes I went there) alliance as long as they feel threatened.
For an analysis of Syrian protest portrayal in Iranian news check out this article…http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/18/iran-arab-spring-syria-uprisings