Alawite support for the Al-Assad regime in Syria may be putting the entire community at risk, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus "Two developments have deepened Alawite involvement in the country’s sectarian strife. One has been the contributions made by Alawite societies to pro-regime paramilitary gangs. The other has been the fact that many young Alawites have joined these gangs, thus becoming part of the regime’s killing machine. Iran has also been instrumental in fomenting sectarian tensions in the country. Since the beginning of the conflict, Tehran has sent hundreds of military experts to Syria and ordered Hizbullah in Lebanon to send its battle-hardened combatants to support the regime. As the war has dragged on, Iran has sent more Shia into the country, among them militiamen from Iraq and Yemen, on the ostensible mission of protecting Shia holy sites. The foreign Shia fighters sent into Syria have had no doubt in their minds about what kind of war they are fighting. For them, the Syrian war is not a conflict between freedom and despotism, as the revolution intended it to be, but between the Shia supporters of Hussein and the Sunni supporters of Yazid – a reference to a conflict that many thought had ended 13 centuries ago. Even Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese officials have confirmed their fanatical zeal, many making public statements to the effect that the Syrian war is one fought between Sunnis on the one side and Shiites on the other. The Al-Assad regime has promoted this distorted discourse, for without the conflict turning sectarian its chances of survival are minimal. It has only been if the regime can pose as the protector of the Shia community, and particularly of the Alawites, that it can justify its acts."