Analysis: Syria's implosion worries neighbors

LONDON Fri Jul 20, 2012 10:44am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Signs that President Bashar al-Assad is rapidly losing his grip on Syria alarm his regional allies, Iran and Hezbollah, and worry other neighbors fearful of chaos on their doorsteps.

This week's sustained battles in the capital Damascus and the explosion that killed Assad's feared brother-in-law and three other men at the core of his fight for survival have focused attention on the possible consequences of his downfall.

Strategically, Iran and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah group - whose leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly mourned the slain Syrian officials as "comrades-in-arms" - have the most to lose, and their regional foe Saudi Arabia the most to gain.

Turkey, a friend of Assad until it fell out with him last year for rejecting its advice to defuse the uprising with real reform, will be happy to see him go, but is nervous about the uncertainties of any future struggle for power in Syria.

No mechanism for an orderly transition is in place. The bloodshed of the past 16 months has created many new scores to settle, particularly between Assad's Shi'ite-linked Alawite minority and Syria's 70 percent Sunni Muslim majority.

Any slide into sectarian warfare in Syria, which also has Druze and Christian minorities as well as ethnic Kurds, risks knock-on effects in neighbors such as Iraq and Lebanon with their own delicate and sometimes explosive communal mix.

Such a conflict could spill over Syria's borders or suck in neighbors trying to defend their interests or co-religionists.

Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon are jittery about refugees who might flood across their frontiers and the potential rise of radical Sunni Islamists in Syria, which Assad has long warned could become "another Afghanistan" without him.

Israel will be delighted at the damage Assad's fall would do to Iran and Hezbollah, but must reckon that any future Syrian government will be just as attached to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Despite their hostility to Israel, Assad and his father before him kept peace on the border for nearly 40 years, prompting some Israelis to prefer them as the "devil you know".

For now, Israel's foremost bugbear is the fate of Syria's chemical arsenal, although it is not clear whether Hezbollah or any other group could actually use the weapons, which require complex means of delivery, if they fell into their hands.

BETTING ON A LOSER?

Syria's neighbors are all concerned about stability, but seem to lack any decisive influence on events in a country whose turmoil major world nations have also proved powerless to check.

The accelerating pace of events appears beyond even Syria's allies Iran and Hezbollah, which have placed all their bets on an Assad dynasty that has endured for more than four decades.

Syria, the only Arab nation to back Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq, never let ideological differences with Tehran obstruct a common interest in nurturing Hezbollah.

Both countries valued the militant group, loyal to the Islamic revolution, first as a frontline force to resist Israeli occupation and Western intervention in Lebanon from the early 1980s, and then as a potent local ally in Lebanese politics.

Syria has supplied arms to Hezbollah and transferred Iranian weapons to the group, as Nasrallah himself said on Wednesday.

"Syria is a path for the resistance and a bridge of communication between the resistance and Iran," he told a Beirut rally, saying Syria had sent the rockets used in Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel and had supplied Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

He did not mention that Hamas, a Sunni Islamist group, has turned against Assad and abandoned its offices in Damascus.

A hostile post-Assad Syria would deprive Hezbollah of its only land supply route and deny Iran its main access to the Mediterranean and the frontlines with Israel.

If a moderate Sunni-dominated government came to power in Damascus, that would also help tilt the regional balance of power in Saudi Arabia's favor and strengthen the hand of Sunnis in nearby Lebanon, another challenge for Hezbollah.

With so much at stake, Iran has given Assad unwavering moral, if not practical, support, endorsing his line that terrorist proxies for Western and Arab powers are to blame for the uprising against him.

While Western leaders disavow any intent to intervene militarily in Syria, they have turned a blind eye as two U.S.-allied Arab autocracies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, funnel money to Syrian rebels for weapons and other needs.

The "loss" of Syria, following Hamas's defection, would also represent an ideological blow to Tehran's "axis of resistance" to U.S.-Israeli designs stretching from Iran to Lebanon, as well as to Iran's own image as standard-bearer of Islamic revolution.

Syria, so long a formidable player in regional power games, now finds itself an arena for wider conflicts: Saudi-Iranian rivalry, Sunni-Shi'ite tension and a contest pitting the West against Russia and China that has paralyzed the United Nations.

The gains of any outside "winners" in the struggle for Syria may prove transitory or consumed by unforeseen consequences.

The real losers are the Syrian people, who may gladly rid themselves of Assad, but whose agony may be far from over.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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Comments (3)
Inspired43 wrote:
So far the west destroyed Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya…..Syria is the penultimate one and then finally Iran. Why is the west so interested in the middle eastern countries? Why does this article clearly state the %age of sunni and shia in Syria..just to show that the governemnt should belong to the religious majority….then the prime minister of India should be a Hindu…..Why are Saudi and Qatar sponsoring the rebels when they themselves are hardcore autocratic and hyprocritic governments……Will they sponsor any individual who hates there government…then there are many individuals who hate the government in Western countries…. Syria is being taken down just to cut IRan from all around and take it down later….US hurt Iran by taking down democratic prime minister Mossadeq in 1950′s and that too on the recommendation of oil companies, since he was nationalizing Iranian oil…then they installed the autocratic puppet Shah…when the revolution broght the Shah down they again became enemy of the Iranian regime. Supported Iraq in Iran-IRaq war and truned blind eye or ignored when Saddam used chemical gas against Iranians but killed him later by making a false claim that he possessed chemicals weapons….Why didn’t they protest when he used them against IRan….

US shot down IR-655 civilian airliner of IRan in middle east….who are they to do that when it is not even their territory…Iran is dealing with too many sanctions and killing of scirntists, drones in their space but still kept quiet….Would the US tolerate all this….

Turkey is against Syria because Assad didn’t implement democratic reforms then they should be against Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, Bahrain …..Good advice should start at home or with friends…If the west loves democracy so much then they should first advice their friends or puppets from Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, Bahrain to implement democracy instead of pulling down Syria for fake reasons… Since they don’t get a paycheck from Syria they are pulling it down…People claiming independence will not have such deadly weapons…If saudi and qatar are so much interested in helping the underdogs then why don’t they help palestians who fight with stones against Israel…

No one know really the reason behind taking down Syria….One last thing to point out is Saudi is second largest producer of petroleum and 4 th largest producer of natural gas…Iran is world’s 2nd largest producer of natural gas and 4th largest producer of petroleum but still Iran is much poorer than Saudi 1 USD = 3 saudi rials = 12000 Iranian rials….all this due to the sanctions and due to the desperate attempt of the western countries to isolate it from the rest of the world….

Jul 20, 2012 12:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
owl905 wrote:
Turkey has its own instability problems with the Kurds. Ditto Iraq. Jordan isn’t ‘jittery’ about a refugee problem – it’s buckling under the influx and its water supplies are stretched to the emergency line.

The fault lines run from the street to the clouds. This hemorrhage will be settled when the blood runs out.

Jul 20, 2012 12:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Cheeseplease wrote:
@ Inspired.

Indeed the US’s CPA implementation (post-invasion) and nation-building strategy was very arguably wrong, as was the occupation mission itself.

But Iraq is not destroyed. It has robust 9% growth and a substantial global-wide oil and gas investment and joint-development portfolio to maximize production and revenue.

Politically, Iraq is currently undergoing a steady reconciliation process and a vigorous home-grown political and social restructuring process to fit their future interests according to how they interpret and reform them.

You seem to be uncomfortable with the anti-Assad extreme-regime revolt and prospects for an imminent transitional political process to a more legit, democratic and representative form governance.

Why not support a new Syrian political process instead and an immediate halt to the all-out barbaric military offensives?

Only someone with ulterior motives and selfish agenda might wish to protect the regime under such current realization?

Jul 20, 2012 4:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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