If Assad Goes, What Will Follow?

There is some evidence that the tide of the Syrian civil war may be turning against Bashar al-Assad, with a number of analysts predicting his defeat. Walter Russell Mead thinks this would be a good thing:

The defeat of Assad remains the best thing that could happen in a Middle East in crisis. A signal defeat for Iran in the heart of the region would help restore a balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites that just might be the basis of a new regional order. When Saddam Hussein, a nominally secular dictator who ensured the dominance of Iraq’s Sunni minority, fell, Iraq flipped to the Shiite camp. That could have worked out if the United States had been willing to stick around in Iraq and help it find a path that was not aligned with Iran. But when the Obama administration’s premature withdrawal left the country with no realistic alternative to falling into orbit around Iran, the regional balance was thrown into disarray. The perception that the United States was tilting toward Iran further destabilized the Sunni world, leading both to the weakening of longstanding U.S. alliances and to rising sympathy for radical Sunni groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda as Sunnis circle the wagons and prepare for sectarian war.

This is where regime change in Syria could help. Assad’s regime is . . . nominally secular but in fact ensures the dominance of a small Shiite-aligned Alawite community over a majority Sunni population—so its fall, and its knock-on effects in Lebanon, where the pro-Iran Shiite political movement would be gravely weakened by the collapse of its longtime protector and ally in Damascus, would go a long way toward redressing the sectarian imbalance across the region. If the Shiites and Iranians control both Iraq and Syria, they will also dominate Lebanon and, many Sunnis worry, the region. But if Syria flips to the Sunnis, the books balance, more or less.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saddam Hussein, Shiites, Syrian civil war

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas