• Sunday 17th January 2021

Al Assad Regime’s Survival Depends On Iran’s Strength By Patrick Seale, Gulfnews

If Tehran cracks under the pressure of economic sanctions and military threats, Damascus could fall

,President Bashar Al Assad of Syria does not seem to be in any immediate danger of collapse or overthrow. In spite of confronting a popular uprising at home and severe pressures from abroad, he has – for the moment at least – weathered the storm. His difficulties, however, are immense. In a speech on 10 January he described the crisis he is facing as ‘a battle unprecedented in Syria’s modern history.’

Several authoritative sources, both inside and outside Syria, share the view that, having held his enemies at bay since last March, Al Assad stands a good chance of survival for several more months. His longer-term prospects, however, remain uncertain.

As a skilful tactician, he has played for time. His agreement to allow in Arab League monitors has relieved him of some pressure for a month, and possibly two. In dealing with the protesters, he has used carrot as well as stick, such as his recent amnesty for political prisoners, his offer of an immediate dialogue with the opposition, and his renewed promise of a revised Constitution, to be put to an early referendum, followed by multi-party elections in the early summer. Two new parties were granted licences this week.

Al Assad’s long-term survival, however will depend, sources say, on whether Syria’s close ally, Iran manages to stand firm. Already under crippling western sanctions, Iran faces what looks like an attempt, not just to halt its programme of uranium enrichment – which Israel sees as a challenge to its own nuclear weapons monopoly – but to change the Tehran regime altogether. The United States and Israel – supported by a number of European and Arab nations, who have joined in for their own commercial, sectarian or strategic interests – have launched a determined assault on the tripartite alliance of Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah. The crime of this trio is to have dared challenge America’s military hegemony in the Gulf and Israel’s military hegemony in the Levant. The three allies – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – know that they stand or fall together. The battle is likely to be fierce. Iran is facing a systematic campaign aimed at subverting its nuclear facilities by cyber attack, the murder of its scientists, and the undermining of its economy by a boycott of its oil exports and Central Bank. Israel and its American friends are also sparing no effort to trigger a US attack on Iran – much as they pushed the US into invading and destroying Iraq. If Iran cracks under the pressure of sanctions and military threats, Syria could fall. Hezbollah in turn, stripped of its external patrons, could then face another Israeli attempt to destroy it, as in 2006.

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Al Assad’s attention is focused on the danger to Syria from this ‘foreign conspiracy’. As he explained in his speech, it is only the latest of many such conspiracies: when Iraq was invaded in 2003, ‘Syria was threatened with bombing and invasion’; the same enemies exploited the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 to expel Syrian forces from Lebanon and attempt to bring down the Syrian regime; in 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon; in 2007, it bombed an alleged Syrian nuclear facility; in 2008, it attacked Gaza, each time exposing Syria to danger. But, Al Assad declared defiantly, “We will never allow them to defeat Syria… Resistance is the core of our identity.”

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