In a revised version of an op-ed that appeared earlier in the New York Times, Nicholas Noe writes: With Syria rapidly descending into civil war and UN action blocked by recent Russian and Chinese vetoes, opponents of the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime face a critical turning point in their almost one-year long struggle to unseat him.
Unfortunately, though, in western capitals, among supportive regional states and within the Syrian opposition itself, practically the only approach to the crisis being seriously discussed revolves around one question: how best to ratchet up the pressure in order to bring about a “controlled collapse” of the whole structure.
In this often simplistic approach, the underlying logic invariably rests on two core ideas. First, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah will not come to the aid of their staunch ally in the event of an impending fall. Second, any violence committed by a dying, isolated Assad regime could be reasonably contained.
Both projections are, however, unlikely. The fall of Assad would deliver a huge, strategic blow to both Iran and its “junior partner”, Hezbollah. It simply does not follow, then, that these actors will simply bite their tongues and absorb the disaster for their mutual position in the Middle East.
As key leaders in Tehran and Beirut have made publicly and privately clear, Assad anchors their tripartite “Resistance Axis”. As a result, both countries have only increased their support of Assad personally – even as his regime acts with more violence and irrationality.
But what if this dominant view were correct and Iran and Hezbollah do not see it in their interests to act? Even in that case, things would be unlikely to turn out as the west would like. A collapse will probably not replicate the eastern Europe experience of the late 1980s or Hosni Mubarak’s fall in Egypt. This is largely because Assad and his supporters control formidable military capabilities, which include, unlike in Iraq or Libya, chemical weapons and ballistic missile systems. Together with the sectarian support that the Alawite Assad regime will likely retain over time against an increasingly mobilised and violent Sunni majority, as well as any continuing military and elite support, the regime is fairly well positioned to prolong what many in the west have confidently projected as an “inevitable” demise wreaked by history.
This slow denouement will mean an extremely violent civil war that will burn for quite some time, with vast humanitarian consequences and multiple unintended effects. [Continue reading…]