from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Syrians Turn Against Hezbollah and Iran

June 7, 2011

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

What kind of Syria might follow the fall of the Assad regime? For many years, a significant percentage of American and Israeli military officers thought things would get worse. A new regime would be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, many said—including some of the highest-ranking American generals.

I have always thought this was a foolish position, given what Assad’s Syria was actually doing. How much worse could things get than a regime that was Iran’s only Arab ally, gave Iran a port on the Mediterranean and a border with Israel (through Hezbollah in Lebanon), helped Iran arm Hezbollah to the teeth, built a nuclear reactor with North Korean help, brought jihadis to Iraq to kill American soldiers, and viciously repressed the Syrian people. Moreover, the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood would rule after Assad was just that, a notion, never supported with hard evidence about their level of internal support.

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The strategic argument for getting Assad out is powerful: it would be a huge defeat for Iran and Hezbollah, and indeed the greatest defeat we could administer to Iran short of ending its nuclear program. As to the argument that the successor regime may follow worse policies, recent reports suggest that in fact Syrians hate the Assad/Hezbollah/Iran alliance and will end it once he is gone. France 24 reports as follows:

“Syrian opposition protesters are not just calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad: they have recently begun directing their anger against his regional allies, Iran and Hezbollah. Our Observer says this is a new and unexpected turn of events.

“Videos of recent protests in Syria show demonstrators chanting slogans against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, as well as the Hezbollah, an Islamist political party from Lebanon with a powerful armed wing. Even more surprising has been footage of protesters burning posters of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general and a widely respected figure throughout the Middle East.

“Their anger is a result of Tehran’s and Hezbollah’s unwavering support for the Syrian government, even as it ruthlessly crushes its own people’s calls for more democracy.”

The alliance with Iran and Hezbollah is seen by increasing numbers of Syrians, then, as one of the characteristics of the hated Assad regime. When Syrians get the chance, they will end both the regime and that alliance. The sooner Assad falls, the better—from every moral, political, and strategic point of view.

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