Assad's Fall Could Deliver Lebanon to Iran and Hezbollah

Washington, Israel, Turkey and Iran all have great reasons to want Assad to remain at the helm - he's seen as a safety valve against an attack by Hezbollah on Israel or against its physical takeover of Lebanon.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

There's one voice suddenly missing in all the tumult surrounding the Syrian protests - that of Hassan Nasrallah. The man who encouraged the "Arab people" to rebel against their corrupt leaders and wished them success, the man who gloated when his enemy Mubarak - a leader who dared detain Hezbollah activists - was ousted from his post and later when protests began against Gadhafi, the main suspect in the disappearance of Imam Mussa Al-Sadr in 1978, is now silent. He is silent just as flames begin to lick the palace of Bashar Assad. That's because Nasrallah, who managed to stage a political revolution within Lebanon, risks finding himself without a political patron and perhaps disconnected from his geographic links to Iran.

Paradoxically, the threat facing Hezbollah is also Assad's defensive shield. When Hillary Clinton said Sunday that the United States would not intervene in Syria militarily, she cited lack of international consensus. But Washington, Israel, Turkey and Iran all have great reasons to want Assad to remain at the helm. The Syrian president has grown closer to the United States in recent years, earning his reward in the form of the return of an American ambassador to Damascus after a six-year hiatus. He is seen as a safety valve against a violent attack by Hezbollah on Israel or against its physical takeover of Lebanon. He has also made known his disagreements with Iran following the controversial visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon.

Assad's fall may open a path for Iran into Lebanon, without it having to consider Syria's position any longer.

Turkey, which has assumed the role of the appeaser and aspires to have as little trouble with its neighbors as possible, is just as concerned. Assad's fall may bring about an unknown new regime, which could view Turkey as an unworthy ally because of its links to Assad or could enable Iran to broaden its influence in Lebanon. The Turkish prime minister and foreign minister spent the weekend urging Assad to launch a series of reforms, but Turkey is also aware of what became of other leaders who recently tried offering reforms instead of real change.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah meeting in Damascus on February 25, 2010.Credit: AP

All this worries Washington, which, at this point in time, does not share Hezbollah's fears and assumes that in any realistic scenario, the organization's bonds to Iran will strengthen, not weaken. It is, therefore, willing to agree to Assad's continued rule in exchange for some compromises with the protesters, or even their suppression with a "reasonable" amount of force.

Meanwhile, Assad is trying the formula that failed Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen - buying time by dismissing his cabinet, a move scheduled to take place tomorrow, and promising some cosmetic reforms.

Abolishing the supremacy of the Baath Party and the emergency regime that has been in place since 1963 will do little to reduce his and his family's grip on the military and economic resources of the state. At the same time, he is trying to recreate the regime of fear that his father imposed in 1982 and which has given Bashar 11 years of quiet. He shoots and kills civilians, arrests hundreds, and mainly relies on the military, which, unlike its Egyptian counterpart, risks losing many of the benefits it enjoys because of its loyalty to the regime.



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