The Fall of Bashar

Dear Reader: Please indulge the author of this blog in a small Gedanken experiment.

By all indications Bashar Al Assad is running out of troops. In a civil war demography is king, and he is on the short end of that. True, Russia and Iran vowed never to let him fall, but in ambiguous terms. For Russia, a Bashar safe in a canton around Latakia is plenty good, for it assures it a long-desired Mediterranean naval base.  Iran wants to extend its sphere of influence and protect the Shi’a of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. None of these objectives require Bashar in Damascus.  When Bashar’s fall comes, it will be sudden and rapid. He will decamp to Latakia, followed by his clan and many refugees, some of whom might actually head out away from Syria. The fall of Bashar, like the receding tide, will expose the swimwear of all regional and international actors.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda units will rush to the south-north axis extending from Damascus to Homs, where they will be face-to-face with Hezbollah at the Lebanese border. Israel rightly regards Hezbollah, with its thousands of rockets, as a mortal threat. It will be tempted to see the circumstances as once-in-a-lifetime chance to end the threat, with ISIS as the anvil to the IDF hammer.  This may entail the destruction of Lebanon, and more refugees. Iran will not remain idle, but its capacity to project power outside its regional area is limited. It will most likely attempt to relieve Hezbollah by opening an Eastern front against ISIS, using its own units rather than the unreliable Iraqi Shi’a militias. ISIS has drawn a bull’s eye on the Hashemites of Jordan, but almost any course of action for Jordan will be a bad one. It is unthinkable to attack Israel, nor to side with Iran, nor to give succor to ISIS. Saudi Arabia, which could not tolerate Iranian allies at its distant southern border, will now have the Iranian army at its northern border, close to its oil fields. Will it give assistance to ISIS, which might initially be grateful but ultimately may decide to go for the whole Enchilada? Or will it launch a direct and catastrophic attack on Iranian troops. The Saudi royal family is a bit like the hedgehog, it knows one thing well, its survival. And of course there is Turkey. The bee in its bonnet is the Kurds. Will it resist the opportunity of chaos to set back their cause of independence by some steps?

Outside the region there are many powers with stakes in the outcome. Europe will shiver at the multiplication of refugees. Russia will have endless opportunities at mischief. The US will have a hard time deciding whether to remain on the sidelines or intervene, but on whose behalf exactly?  A Saudi-ISIS alliance, an Iranian anti-ISIS, anti-Israel effort, or simply against all?

The purpose of this grim mental experiment is to show that the only rational course of action, as well as the one with least suffering for people, is for all actors to arrive at a negotiated settlement for the Syrian conflict, respecting existing borders, and with the Jihadis as the odd man out, and hopefully quickly gone as well. Whether the bumbling regional powers and dazed world powers can arrive at this end remains to be seen.

 

— Maged Atiya


One Comment on “The Fall of Bashar”


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