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Ron Ben-Yishai
Is Syria the next Iraq?
Op-ed: Just like Iraq, Syria may split into hostile, autonomous regions in post-Assad era

While Syrian President Bashar Assad clings to power, the Syrian state is crumbling under his feet. Western intelligence officials now see a reasonable chance for Syria breaking up into ethnic cantons following Assad’s eventual fall.

 

In fact, the above officials believe this is already happening. Syria, just like Iraq, may split into autonomous, hostile regions that are barely connected. The possibilities being mentioned are a Kurdish canton in the country’s northeast, an Alawite canton in the northwest, an autonomous Druze region, and the rest being divided among Sunni tribes.

 

One of the indicators of disintegration is the defections from Bashar Assad’s camp by chiefs of important Alawite tribes who declare that they are no longer loyal to the president. The flow of defectors in the army is growing as well, but has not yet reached mass proportions.

 

Some 3,000 Syrian soldiers have defected thus far, including a brigadier general. However, what’s more important is that the Syrian army is thinning its border presence and dispatching units to fight the armed rebels in the Idlib, Homs and Daraa areas, controlled by armed Sunni tribes that are fighting the Syrian military with great success.

 

Armed groups of rebels are also operating in the suburbs of Damascus; in order to fight these forces, the Syrian army thinned its presence at the Golan Heights border with Israel as well.

 

Intelligence sources say that several hundreds of Revolutionary Guards members arrived in Syria from Iran, in addition to Hezbollah men who arrived from Lebanon in order to help the regime repress the revolt. Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guards forces join Syrian units and make sure that Sunni soldiers and officers do not hesitate to fight the rebels amongst them.

 

Syrian army bases are attacked on a daily basis. The only division uninvolved in the fighting directly is the Republican Guard, which safeguards Assad’s palace as well as vital government and infrastructure sites in the Damascus region.

 

Syrian economy crashing

Intelligence officials note that Syria’s economic situation is deteriorating rapidly, a fact that may prompt the middle class in the large cities to end their ongoing support for Assad’s regime.

 

The Syrin Lira’s exchange rate has been cut in half since the uprising began. A shortage in staples is growing, mostly in fuels, bread and electricity. The price of fuel rose by 12% recently, and more significantly in the cold winter, the price of a gas tank skyrocketed by 60%. By now the regime initiates power outages in order to save fuel, with reserves dwindling quickly.

 

Despite the above, it appears that the fighting in Syria pits members of the Alawite sect against members of Sunni tribes only, with other ethnicities and religious groups sitting on the fence and waiting for the regime to fall, based on the assumption that they would be able to realize their aspirations for autonomy in the framework of a new Syrian regime.

 

For the time being, Western intelligence officials do not see indications that the Syrian army is handing over arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. One concern is that towards the regime’s end, and possibly as result of the expected anarchy, Hezbollah would manage to receive or smuggle advanced surface-to-air missile batteries, recently purchased by Damascus in Russia.

 

There are concerns that surface-to-surface missiles and possibly chemical and biological weapons could also reach Hezbollah.

 

This is the main fear in Israel at this time, yet for the time being there are no indications that it is being materialized. There are also no indications that Syria’s president will try to initiate a clash against Israel in order to divert attention away from the domestic conflict he faces.

 

 

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