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WASHINGTON – Iranian leaders publicly are backing the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – even while methodically laying a foundation to raise the level of Iran’s influence in neighboring Lebanon should al-Assad fall, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri in a speech last week at the University of Tehran criticized the United States and Israel for attempting to take control over the Levant region, particularly in Syria.

“We support the Syrian government, and we also support President Bashar al-Assad and encourage him on the reforms he has been trying to implement,” the Iranian ayatollah said.

Taskhiri is the secretary-general of the World Assembly for Proximity of Islamic Denominations.

His comment supporting al-Assad, an Alawite in a division of Islam which is more closely associated with Shi’ism, was part of his support for resistance leaders who have left a “great impact on the revolutions sweeping across the world today.” It underscored that the Iranian-backed Shi’a Hezbollah which he referred to as the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon “has struggled to protect the Ummah (nation) and its dignity.”

“We support the Islamic resistance as well as any other resistance movement that stands in the face of the ‘Israeli’ enemy, be it Muslims, Christians, or (whomever) else,” Taskhiri added.

Despite Taskhiri’s continuing support for al-Assad, the Iranian clerics have been showing increased concern with the West’s focus on regime change in Syria by backing the opposition, which Shi’ites believe is receiving support from Iran’s rival, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom is very concerned with Iran’s growing influence among the mostly Shi’ite minorities in other Sunni Arab countries. Only Bahrain has a majority Shi’ite population but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy which has for months been involved in a crackdown on increasing Shi’ite demonstrations. Saudi Arabia was so concerned about the demonstrations that it, along with the United Arab Emirates, sent in troops to quell the violence.

The U.S. quietly has backed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to support the Syrian opposition, which analysts say has been taken over by the Sunni Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

“Throwing Syria in the jaws of a wolf called the U.S. means one more disaster will be inflicted upon the Islamic world,” according to Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee. “The Islamic world’s interest is to try and maintain Syria firm, as a center for Palestinian resistance.”

The Iranian website Aser stated that the al-Assad regime is facing “immense global pressures and chances are that necessary psychological, political and propaganda grounds for a military intervention will ensue.”

“Preventing Damascus from (falling) is very necessary because otherwise the regime will be weakened and will lose its upper hand in maneuvering and bargaining power in regional equations and can put Iran’s friends in Lebanon in a weak position,” the government-backed Iranian website added.

Just as Iran is expressing concern over the fate of the Syrian al-Assad regime, which it strongly backs, the Islamic republic for the past six years has been spreading its influence in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor.

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