Analysis on Syria

Although framed from Israel’s perspective, the analysis in today’s Jerusalem Post by Ariel Ben Solomon is fairly even handed:

While the Assad regime is linked to Iran and Hezbollah, some experts say most of the groups opposing him are in one way or another close in ideology to either al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood.

What is Israel’s interest in Syria and the possibility of a US-led attack? Israel’s current policy seems to be to stay out of it unless any redlines are crossed, at which point it would act covertly to deal with the threat.

A key reason for the ambivalence of Israeli experts and policy makers is that there is no clear path to take – both Syrian president Bashar Assad’s regime, which is allied with Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, and the Islamist-dominated opposition forces are distasteful.

There are no good choices.

Robert Kaplan, the chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, wrote in a recent article that a stalemate and continuation of the conflict may be the best outcome. He cited the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) as an example of a conflict that benefited the Reagan administration.

“By tying down two large and radical states in the heart of the Middle East, the war severely reduced the trouble that each on its own would certainly have caused the region for almost a decade,” Kaplan wrote.

There may be a sliver of hope.

The debate in the US and in the media has recently focused on the identity of the Syrian opposition and if there could be some secular or Western-friendly elements that could be supported in the case that Assad falls.

However, note the prerequisite: Assad must fall. Given how well he has held out to date, probably amid fears of a genocidal reprisal against the Alawites, that’s not looking so straightforward. Apart from anything else, superpower support from Russia and China is unlikely to be easy to counter or remove.

However, with that background:

In Congress, US Senator John McCain made the case that the opposition is not as radical as many have been saying, citing a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, who argued that Islamic radicals are not dominating the rebel forces.

“Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote.

Many analysts were surprised by O’Bagy’s assertion, and information has recently come to light demonstrating that O’Bagy is not a neutral observer. According to an interview with The Daily Caller website, she admitted that she also serves as a paid adviser to a pro-rebel lobby group in the US.

She serves as the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group lobbying in the US on behalf of the Syrian rebels.

Actually, it may be worse than that. According to some, this promoter of a secular opposition has ties to some dodgy extremists. (See here.)

So, credit to the author for this caution:

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a former president of Tel Aviv University and a past ambassador to the US who participated in peace negotiations with Syria in the 1990s, told The Jerusalem Post that “no one can tell you what the balance of forces is between jihadists and secular opposition groups.”

However, Rabinovich has more:

He argues that the secular opposition cannot be written off completely, and it is “not necessarily true that Islamists would come to power if Assad falls.”

Read the whole article, here.