Bashar’s real problems start now

Friday 31/07/2015

Frederic C. Hof, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, recently wrote a column in which he asks whether Syria has been ‘’sold” to Iran. By that he means whether a deal was struck between Washington and Tehran where the Syrians are the losers. Hof then goes on to answer his own question, explaining why this is unlikely, giving a sundry list of reasons why.

I hate to say this but Presi­dent Bashar Assad and the Syrian people have already lost. They lost in a big way. The fact that Assad is still sitting in a fortified palace, guarded by a brigade of loyal goons does not make him any more presiden­tial. What is he president of? Martyred cities such as Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Palmyra. Who is he a president of? Three-point-something million refugees. Nearly 450,000 dead Syrians, probably twice that many injured.

And tens of thousands scarred for life. Probably several million who have left, never to return. Syria has become a country without an intelligentsia.

Or is he proud to be the president of a “former” part of Syria now occupied by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), where his people are tortured , killed and sold into slavery? Oh! He must be really proud of that. Or perhaps he is proud to be president of a country that is running out of men of fighting age to recruit for his army. Now it doesn’t take a brain surgeon or a mathematician to figure that one out. (Maybe an eye surgeon.)

With a population of 22 million people, today Bashar is left with very few draftable men.

When you deduct the three-something million refugees, the casualties of war, the women, children, the old and the young. They are really killing them faster than they can be replaced.

Oh yes, Assad can call on his Lebanese friends in Hezbollah and of course their masters in Iran to come and fight, kill and die for him. But he should be well aware that this comes at a price. It’s not free. Iran will demand retribution, which by the time the war is over Syria, or what’s left of it, may well become an Iranian colony. It is a sad fact but these are the facts.

And that is only the beginning.

Syria coming de facto under the Iranian boot will give Iran two very desirable assets: first, access to the Mediterranean Sea, and second, access to Israel’s borders from Syria and from Lebanon. By then Iran, neck-deep in trading with Euro­peans and Americans and having them believe that they are abiding by the Vienna agreement, will have devel­oped its nuclear deterrence, and will have direct borders with Israel – as they say in Lebanon, now is when the film really starts.

Of course with a new presi­dent expected in the White House in January 2017 the entire momentum can change. The US can get serious about regime change in Damascus and, with Turkey now commit­ted, it may be that Assad’s days as president of Syria may be numbered.

But before any serious thought is given to regime change in Damascus the powers that be would have to address the issue of ISIS and remove it as a threat.

Rarely has the region been in such turmoil and with that much danger brewing. And it is sad to say it doesn’t look as though it’s going to get any better anytime soon.