- By Andrew Tabler<p> Andrew Tabler is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle With Syria. </p>
Four months into Syria’s uprising, the violence wracking the country is bad and getting worse. The restive city of Homs witnessed sectarian clashes over the weekend that reportedly left dozens dead, while forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad converged on the eastern town of Abu Kamal. As the Assad regime’s iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove approach to the uprising continues to fail, all eyes are focused on the Aug. 1 start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the minority Alawite regime’s killing of predominately Sunni protesters could transform the uprising into a sectarian bloodbath.
This bloodshed, which is tragic in its own right, is also causing the sputtering Syrian economy to grind to a halt. Such a development would be particularly dangerous for Assad, as it could cause the business elite in the commercial hubs of Damascus and Aleppo to finally break ties with the regime and join ranks with the opposition. Iran, Assad’s staunch ally, is no doubt aware of the threat; Tehran is reportedly mulling a $5.8 billion aid package to Syria, as well as providing a daily supply of 290,000 barrels of oil for the next month. Fortunately, cash-strapped Iran does not have the resources to indefinitely bail out Assad if the United States organizes a Western effort to hit Syria in its Achilles’ heel — namely, its energy revenues.