Gaddafi is gone but will Assad be next?

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 25, 2011
Gaddafi’s fall could further destabilise Assad

Gaddafi’s fall could further destabilise Assad

The collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya this week is expected to have little direct effect on Israel, but it could provide inspiration for the pro-democracy forces in Syria. Israeli analysts remain undecided on the imminence of President Bashar al-Assad's fall from power and its desirability for Israel.

The last six months of chaos in Libya had an adverse effect on the region as terror groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Bedouin smugglers plundered abandoned Libyan Army arms depots. Many of those weapons found their way into Egypt, mainly the Sinai Peninsula, where they helped fuel the state of anarchy near Israel's southern border that has existed ever since President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in February. Some of these weapons, Israeli intelligence believes, were also smuggled to the terror organisations in the Gaza Strip, though, as one analyst said this week, that area is so awash with weaponry that whatever came from Libya probably did not make much of a difference."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Libya hosted some of the most extreme movements fighting against Israel and supplied them with funds and arms. But in recent years, Gaddafi has been much less involved in the Israel-Palestine issue, and had even proposed his own peace plan. While some figures in the Libyan opposition have expressed a willingness to deal with Israel, and even accept aid, there is little chance in the immediate future of much contact between the two countries while a new government forms in Tripoli and starts to rebuild.

The more immediate effect of Gaddafi's fall is the morale boost it will give to the opposition in Syria. Despite calls last week by President Barack Obama for Assad to resign, and the fact that even some of the Arab nations have turned against him, Assad's staying power is still unclear. One veteran Israeli analyst said this week, "I give him two months, three at the most, he is fighting a losing battle." But another veteran Syria-watcher said, "The army is still largely with him and he has major backing from the Iranians, it will still take some time for Assad to fall." The security establishment in Israel is divided. Some believe that Assad is still a force for stability and that if he falls, Israel will have to contend with a civil war on its northern border that may spill over. Others believe Assad's departure will be a blow to the Iranian-Hizbullah axis and a boon for Israel.

Last updated: 10:45am, August 25 2011