When the Syrian pot boils over*

By Norman A. Bailey
Thursday, June 25th, 2015 @ 7:38PM

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Left: Bashar al-Assad, Reuters

When President al-Sisi of Egypt says that Syria’s President Assad is finished, it behooves us to listen. We must assume that Egyptian intelligence is very well-informed on the internal Syrian situation. So, if Assad falls what will be the effects on Israel?

In the first place, post-Assad Syria will be a festering, toxic mixture of violent, mutually-antagonistic and heavily-armed militias. The principal groups will be:

  • Alawite militias armed by the disintegrating Syrian army, trying to protect their seacoast enclave from the Sunni groups.
  • Islamic State (IS), which controls much of central Syria.
  • The Kurds, who are engaged currently in an offensive against IS.
  • The al-Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida franchise, strongest in south-western Syria.

There is also a witch’s brew of other Sunni or secular armed groups, likely joined by Christian and Druze militias which have been supporting Assad and will now have to start fending for themselves.

Hezbollah, which has also been supporting Assad and suffering substantial casualties in Syria, can be expected to retreat into its home territory in Lebanon, which in turn is rapidly becoming yet another failed MENA (Middle East North Africa) country, to join Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya.

Iran will have suffered a major setback in its regional ambitions, having just injected its own troops to try to shore up the Assad regime. These forces may well stay in Syria, confronting IS and other militias antagonistic to Iran and Shi’ism.

Jordan will be subject to serious threat from its border with the former Syria, especially if that border is controlled by IS. It is an open secret that US trainers are at work in Jordan strengthening that country’s defensive capabilities.

As to Israel, which has so far maintained a strict neutrality towards events in Syria, its northern frontiers will now be subjected to a series of planned or inadvertent incursions by several of the armed militias mentioned above. Of these, the most serious potential threat is likely to be from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, assuming that organization, which is Sh’ia, is not fully occupied in trying to assist its Alawite cousins and in fending off the Sunni tide.

In sum, a post-Assad situation in the Syrian region will provide multiple threats, but also various opportunities to forge alliances with the Kurds, the Druze, the Christians, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Israeli political, defense, security and intelligence communities will have to face chaos and anarchy with a fully-integrated defense and security mix, nourished by a robust intelligence capability.

The potential developments in a post-Assad region are by no means all negative, but the challenge of taking full advantage of the opportunities that are likely to arise will severely test an Israeli political system that itself is becoming seriously dysfunctional.

 

*Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

This commentary was first published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on June 24, 2015

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