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Finding himself both fiercely and unexpectedly fighting for his regime’s very survival, Syria’s President Bashar Assad took to the airwaves to deliver a sweeping condemnation of the unrest sweeping the Syrian nation. Assad’s hardened stance was a welcome sign for those in the region — both friend and foe — who have a vested interest in his political survival, a prospect that makes his removal from power fairly unlikely.
In a televised address, Assad openly blamed the growing turmoil on unnamed outside forces, declaring “Syria today is being subjected to a big conspiracy, whose threads extend from countries near and far.”
For many pro-reform Syrians, Assad’s attempt to assign blame for the nation’s current turmoil to outside conspirators seemed truly off the mark. If anything, the cause of Syrian unrest has mirrored all Mideast uprisings in 2011: high unemployment, deadening poverty, political repression and official corruption.
Moreover, Assad’s initial response to the unrest has been to utilize the same unsuccessful methods employed by his Arab counterparts: promise reforms, fire his cabinet, and free a few political prisoners. Predictably, the result of those cosmetic concessions has only served to intensify both the spread of the protests and the efforts of the regime to quell it.
Yet, even though the scenario being played out today in Syria may be similar to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, the end result may be quite different. To that end, evidence abounds that Assad may not suffer the same fate as what befell the deposed leaders of those two nations.
For starters, as both the Arab world’s foremost Israeli antagonist and Iran’s closest Arab ally, a Syrian civil collapse – one facilitated by Assad’s ouster — would have broad and highly negative regional implications. As one analyst said, “Nobody has an interest in Syria going aflame. Syrian instability has the potential of destabilizing the entire region.” It is a core reason why a bevy of nations and groups — albeit for differing reasons — have hopes that Assad can ride out the storm.
Syria’s closest friends, Hezbollah and Iran, have much to lose from an Assad removal. For Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an Assad ouster will cost them a political and military patron, as well as a geographic link to Iran.
For Iran, which recently had Syria open its port of Latakia as an Iranian base, it has more than enough incentive to ensure the continuation of the Assad relationship. As one Israeli foreign ministry official noted, “Syria is an Iranian acquisition, and it is clear that Iran is afraid that its investment will go down the drain.”
To that end, an Iranian command structure has already been setup at Syrian armed forces headquarters in Damascus. In fact, so acute is Hezbollah and Iranian concern over a Syrian implosion, reports have surfaced that both are now actively participating in quelling Syrian demonstrations.
For Turkey, a Syrian collapse would place in jeopardy Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s primary diplomatic and economic strategy, one squarely focused on Syria, Iran and Russia. Moreover, according to journalist Amotz Asa-El, “Assad has shared Turkey’s hostility to Kurdish statehood and shelved Syria’s demand for sovereignty over the Alexandretta region.”
As for the United States, the Obama administration has long engaged in an effort to peel Syria away from its ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. While these efforts have been wholly unsuccessful, the administration still believes Assad’s continued control of Syria to be an integral part of America’s Mideast foreign policy.
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