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Region’s alliances likely to unravel if Assad’s regime falls 7 mai 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Middle East Reporter (MER), May 7, 2011

Weekly Reports – Syria-Regime

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is apparently fighting back with full force, determined to defeat an unprecedented movement of public protests that has posed the gravest challenge not only to his 11-year rule, but also to his family’s four-decade dynasty. Undeterred by international condemnation of his regime for its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Assad has deployed the army to crush the seven-week uprising which quickly engulfed several Syrian cities, reaching the capital, Damascus.

Rights groups say at least 580 Syrians have been killed since the revolt began in the blockaded southern city of Deraa on March 15, spreading quickly across the nation of some 23 million people. Syrian authorities have also arrested more than 1,000 people in the latest sweep aimed at crushing the dissent against the Assad regime, according to human rights groups. However, the escalation of the crackdown has emboldened the protesters who began their movement with demands for political reforms and are now publicly calling for Assad’s ouster, in a stark reminder of the popular uprisings that led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Assad has acknowledged the need for reforms. He lifted the emergency laws last month in response to protesters’ demands (see MER 20/4/2011). Assad has granted citizenship to Kurds, a long-marginalized minority, to try to placate protesters, and he offered an amnesty to Syrians who turn themselves in before May 15 for carrying weapons or allegedly undermining national security. Syria blames the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and «  »terrorist groups » » that it says have taken advantage of the protests. The continued crackdown on the protesters has raised questions about the survival of the Assad regime amid growing international condemnation of the Syrian authorities’ handling of the uprising.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has warned that the Assad regime will fall if it continues its bloody repression of demonstrations. « If the regime perseveres down this path (of repression), it will fall, one day or another, but it will fall, » Juppe told Europe 1 radio on May 2. Ironically, even Syria’s arch-enemy, Israel, has also warned that Assad’s « brutality » against anti-government protesters would lead to the downfall of his regime. « I think that Assad is approaching the point where he will lose his internal legitimacy, » Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s Channel 10 television on May 2. « His brutality has caused more and more deaths and is pushing him into a corner. His chances of getting out are getting smaller. Even if he stops the bloodshed, I don’t think he can restore his legitimacy. »

Impact on Alliances

It goes without saying that the collapse of the Assad regime will send shockwaves from Iran to Israel and lead to unraveling alliances in the region. The international ramifications of a regime change in Syria are many and complex. The fallout will be particularly felt in Lebanon and Palestine, and there will also be an impact on the country’s alliances with Iran, Turkey, and Iraq, and, perhaps most importantly, on its stalled peace talks with Israel. Assad inherited power from his father, the late President Hafez Assad in 2000, and has forged a strategic alliance with Iran and maintained close ties with Islamic militant groups such as the powerful Shiite Hizbullah group in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Syria has come under harsh criticisms in the past from both Arab and Western countries for its alliance with non-Arab Iran and its strong ties with Hizbullah and Hamas. Syria is vital to Hizbullah, which leads a Lebanese coalition supporting the Assad regime. Arms shipments to Hizbullah come through Syrian territory. Therefore, the fall of the Assad regime would deal a heavy blow to Hizbullah. It would also mean for Iran the loss of its key and only Arab ally in the region at a time of mounting tension between Tehran and its Arab neighbors across the Gulf region. Likewise, any regime change in Syria would affect one way or another the 10 militant Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are based in Damascus.

Syria has in the past been accused of thwarting attempts to reconcile Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its rival, the moderate Fatah Movement, which controls the West Bank. Leaders of the two groups sealed a reconciliation deal in Cairo this week while the Assad regime was preoccupied with public protests at home. A regime change in Syria would also affect its relations with neighboring Iraq where governments have long accused the Assad regime of facilitating the transfer of militant fighters to carry out attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq.


Many Lebanese leaders have warned that instability and chaos in Syria would spill over to Lebanon. They argued that Lebanon and Syria’s security and stability are intertwined. Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader MP Walid Jumblat has warned that the downfall of the Assad regime could lead to the disintegration of Syria. In an interview with the leftist newspaper AS SAFIR published on April 29, Jumblat, who has reconciled with Syria after years of tensions, said it would be in the interest of all Lebanese factions if the Assad regime overcame the challenge it is currently facing.

« The downfall (of the Assad regime) will open the doors to all kinds of possibilities, perhaps the gravest and most serious is Syria’s disintegration, which is part of the American-Israeli project aimed at partitioning the region on a sectarian basis, » Jumblat said. He added that the success in undermining « Syria’s setup and map » would automatically reflect on the situation in Lebanon which is known for its fragility and weak immunity. « The Druze in both countries will be among the biggest victims of this equation, » said Jumblat, a key leader of the Druze sect in Lebanon.

Jumblat said that America and Israel stood to benefit most from the anti-regime protests in Syria because they wanted to plunge the country into chaos, firstly to weaken Syria’s role in the Middle East, and secondly to compensate the balance of power in the region which was upset following the collapse of the Mubarak regime, which was an ally of both countries.

Reshaping Mideast

The well known British writer Patrick Seale, an expert on Syrian affairs, has warned that the region’s alliances will unravel if the Assad regime falls. He said that a regime change in Syria will reshape the Middle East. Describing the Syrian regime, as « long a key player in the Middle East power play, » Seale said in an article published in the British newspaper THE GUARDIAN on April 11, « If the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad fails to reassert its authority, and is instead brought down or merely enfeebled by a prolonged period of popular agitation, the geopolitical implications could be considerable. Syria’s allies – the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Shiite resistance movement Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Hamas government in Gaza – would all come under pressure. For all three, loss of Syrian support would be painful. » Seale said any regime change in Damascus is not likely to reduce Syria’s influence in Lebanon. « No Syrian regime of any color can tolerate a hostile government in Beirut. Its security – especially vis-a-vis Israel – is intimately tied to that of its Lebanese neighbor, » he said.

Regarding the impact of a regime change in Syria on Israel, Seale said, « Israel would no doubt view such a development with great satisfaction. It has long sought to disrupt the Tehran-Damascus-Hizbullah-Hamas axis, which has challenged its regional supremacy – even acquiring a certain deterrent capability, intolerable in Israel’s eyes. But Israel’s feelings might be tempered by fear that Assad could be replaced by an Islamist regime, even more threatening to its interests and security. »

« More broadly, the region is witnessing the unraveling of alliances formed in a critical period three decades ago that saw the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979; the Iranian revolution of the same year; and Israel’s devastating invasion of Lebanon in 1982, followed by its 18-year occupation of the south, which led to the emergence of Hizbullah, » Seale said. « Having been Syria’s ally in the 1973 war, Egypt changed sides and became Israel’s partner in peace. Iran, Israel’s ally under the shah, changed sides under the Islamic republic, becoming Syria’s ally instead. Syria and Israel swapped partners. »

« These arrangements are now under threat. Post-Mubarak Egypt is likely to distance itself from Israel and rejoin the Arab camp, while Syria’s alliance with Iran – unpopular with the Sunni- majority population – could be endangered by any change of regime in Damascus, » Seale said.

Seale said a regime change in Syria could reshuffle alliances formed 30 years ago. « Iraq and Iran, who fought a bitter war in the 1980s, could well draw closer now that both are under Shiite leadership. Together they will form a formidable power block. America’s colossal investment in men and treasure in the Iraq war will seem more vain than ever, » he said. He added that Turkey, whatever the nature of the regime in Syria, « may indeed come to replace Iran as Syria’s main regional ally. »


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