WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Iran's government has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime since the outbreak of the civil war there. Iranians, however, are more ambivalent about their country's role in the conflict and are growing more reluctant to wade in further. Less than half of Iranians now say they favor economic, military, or political support for their country's beleaguered ally.
The Iranian government has given Syria vital political and military support in the past two years, but its most important contribution may be its role in keeping the Syrian economy afloat. By lending the regime billions of dollars and selling its oil at a large discount, the Syrian government has been able to continue paying government salaries and pensions, which have proven crucial in keeping key segments of the population on its side.
Most Iranians Not Following the Conflict
Although the survival of Assad's regime has long been closely pegged to Iran's security strategy in the region, the majority of Iranians are not closely following the news out of Syria. About four in 10 Iranians (39%) say they are following the Syrian conflict "very closely" or "somewhat closely," while 18% say they are not watching closely at all and 41% do not have an opinion.
Iranians who say they are paying closer attention to the war are significantly more likely to favor Iran's involvement in the conflict, including sending economic aid (60%), military support (49%), and lending political support (65%). Among the minority of Iranians who say they are not following the conflict closely at all, 37% favor sending military support to Syria.
The anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric the Iranian government has espoused since 1979 has left the country with few friends and many powerful enemies. As the only country in the region that stood beside Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, the Syrian-Iranian partnership has proven durable and goes back nearly to the birth of the Islamic state. Today, Syria's role as the linchpin of a titular "axis of resistance" alongside Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continues to make Syria crucial to Iran's national security strategy.
With domestic support for Iranian aid to Syria soft and potentially decreasing, the Iranian government finds itself in a difficult situation. If the government boosts aid to its Syrian ally, it risks arousing the anger of its own economically strained population. But if Iranian support for Syria is reduced or halted altogether, the country may also lose its most reliable regional ally. The longer the war in Syria drags on and international sanctions continue against Iran, the less tenable Iran's position will become.
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Results are based on telephone interviews with 3,507 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Nov. 6-Dec. 11, 2012, and May 24-June 6, 2013, in Iran. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±2.8 to ± 4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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