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Sunday, July 22, 2012

After the pyromaniac with the fire extinguisher

In the London Telegraph, James Deneslow describes Bashar al-Assad as a pyromaniac with a fire extinguisher. What happens when he falls, as appears increasingly likely? From Israel's perspective, there's good news and there's bad news.
Whilst Iran is Hezbollah's core patron, it is heavily reliant on the land bridge and strategic depth provided by Syria. A post-Assad government in Damascus would be likely to cut ties with Hezbollah, which has stayed loyal to the regime throughout the conflict. A key node of Iranian influence would thereby see its wings clipped, and although still dangerous in the short term, with a rumoured arsenal of some 40,000 rockets, Hezbollah's ability to re-supply would be crippled.

Lebanon itself, a country largely divided into pro and anti-Syria factions since 2005, would be entering a new era potentially free from the constant corruption and threats of assassination emanating from their eastern neighbour. What happens next in Lebanon will be influenced by how much overspill comes from Syria. Wednesday's bombing in Damascus prompted the outbreak of fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, between neighbourhoods divided, ironically enough, by a road called "Syria street".

Meanwhile, the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, for decades one of the quietest borders in the region, could find itself back in play as a strategic flashpoint. As the Assad regime has haemorrhaged control over the past 16-months, al-Qaeda affiliated groups have rushed to fill the vacuum. Israel may well see the predictable enemy it knows in Assad replaced by a variety of terrorist start-ups able to operate right at the border.

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