Burhan Ghalioun
Burhan GhaliounScreen Capture

The leader of the Syrian National Council warned Iran against protecting President Bashar al-Assad – and accused Lebanon’s Hizbullah on Tuesday of letting down the Syrian opposition.

Iran is "participating in suppressing the Syrian people" by backing Assad during a nine-month crackdown that has killed over 4,000 civilians and sent Syria spiraling into civil war, Burhan Ghalioun told CNN.

Syria has been seen as a key element of Iran's axis of influence in the Middle East, as well as a critical land-bridge connecting it to its Shi'ite terror proxy, Hizbullah, in Lebanon.

Ghalioun, who was elected chairman of the SNC in late August, also warned Assad's crackdown could lead to international military intervention.

"I hope that the Iranians realize the importance of not compromising the Syrian-Iranian relationship by defending a regime whose own people clearly reject it and has become a regime of torture to its own people," Ghalioun said.

He said Iran needed to understand "that this is the last chance to avoid an unwanted fate to the Syrian-Iranian relationship."

Turning to Hizbullah, Iran’s primary ally in Lebanon, Ghalioun said the Syrian opposition had been "let down" by the "resistance group."

"The Syrian people stood completely by Hizbullah once. But today, they are surprised that Hizbullah did not return the favor and support the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom,” he said.

Last week Ghalioun told the Wall Street Journal  “our relations with Iran will be revisited as [will those of] any of the countries in the region, based on the exchange of economic and diplomatic interests, in the context of improving stability in the region and not that of a special relationship. There will be no special relationship with Iran.”

He also said breaking the exceptional relationship with Iran after the fall of the Syrian regime would change its relationship with Hizbullah.

Hizbullah has also faced strong domestic opposition in Lebanon from the Freedom Movement and March 14 alliance that have accused the terror group of using its arms and munitions of undermining the sovereignty of the Lebanese people.

Led by former prime minister Sa'ad Hariri – son of slain prime minister Rafiq Hariri – opposition groups have also accused Hizbullah of using political assassination as a road to power.

Four Hizbullah terrorists were indicted for planning and executing the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon earlier this year.

Analysts say strong Western engagement of the Syrian opposition could serve as a lever to shatter Iran's regional axis and isolate Hizbullah. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies – Iran's primary rivals for hegemony over the Persian Gulf – have also sought to bring Syria and Lebanon into the West-leaning Arab fold.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton held a round of talks with SNC members earlier this week.