November 21, 2011
Analysis: Syria’s Assad seen ignoring Gadhafi’s fate
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But nobody believes sanctions alone can bring down Assad.
“I am not suggesting that there’s going to be some orderly disintegration of the regime. It is likely that there will be a continued militarization and the regime will be ousted through military means, with the assistance perhaps of Turkey and other Arab states - perhaps with buffer zones in both Jordan and Turkey which would be focused on protecting civilians and offering a safe haven for those launching attacks,” Shaikh said.
The big powers are more united in their campaign to subdue Assad, while ruling out military intervention.
“A military intervention is not likely and the NATO example of Libya is not applicable to Syria. Where would they hit? Gadhafi had military bases entrenched across the country. Any attack on Syria would have reverberations and reactions in neighboring countries,” said Middle East expert Jamil Mroue.
Armed with a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians, Western powers provided air support to Libyan rebels who toppled Gadhafi, but are not inclined to repeat the feat in Syria, in a far trickier arena of the Middle East.
Russia, which believes NATO stretched the U.N. mandate on Libya to embrace regime-change, firmly opposes any resolution against Syria, where it has its only permanent Mediterranean port facilities at Tartous.
Assad’s own specter-waving has reinforced the fears of Syria’s neighbors - Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey - about the possibly seismic consequences of a power shift in a nation on the faultlines of several Middle Eastern conflicts.
Instability in Syria, an ally of Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, could spread to volatile Lebanon or Iraq.
Israel relies on Assad to stabilize their common border, and fears his fall could herald less predictable rulers.
Undeniably, too, Assad still retains substantial support within his own Alawite minority, parts of the business elite, Christians and others who fear that Islamist radicals might come to the fore, and, crucially, army and security force commanders.
“The Syrian regime is not isolated internally as many would like to believe. It retains a strong social base of support in major centers like Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia where 60 percent of the population live,” Gerges said.
“There is a real danger that Syria has already descended into a prolonged conflict no one knows its outcome internally and regionally. I don’t see a way out for the Assad regime. Assad has no exit strategy. This is a fight to the bitter end for the family, the clan, with the mentality: either I am going to be killed or I kill my enemy,” Gerges said.
There are those who believe that Assad’s last real ally, Iran, will help him financially.
“Iran will not give up on Bashar. It is a matter of survival for them too,” said Mroue. “Iran believes that targeting Syria is a first step in clipping the wings of the Islamic Republic. The same goes for Hezbollah.”
Yet some observers note that the Iranians, struggling with U.N. sanctions and economic problems of their own, are already making tentative contact with the Syrian opposition.
Editing by Giles Elgood
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