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(photo credit: AP)
With one week to go before the release of the UN report about the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the US ratcheting up the rhetoric of Syria's imminent demise, experts say that the last Baathist regime is under no immediate threat of collapse.
â€œI don't think anything could topple the regime other than a full scale invasion,â€ Ambassador Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post.
According to a Western analyst based in Beirut, the Syrian Baathist regime is not likely to fall because â€œthere is no substitute.â€
Speaking to the Poston condition of anonymity he said that although the Syrian regime is under â€œtremendous pressure, it is in no imminent danger. If you want this regime to go there has to be a substitute. But there is no opposition, no civil society. Everything is under control, it's a police state. Is any one waiting in the wings? If there were he wouldn't be here anymore. Look what happened to Ghazi Kenaan.â€
Last week, Kenaan, the powerful Syrian interior minister died in what the Syrian administration said was suicide. Some Western analysts suggested that Kenaan was killed because he was responsible for Hariri's death. But the Beirut-based analyst told The Post that Kenaan was a supporter of Hariri and was likely killed because he could implicate the guilty parties.
Whatever the cause of his death it has put the spotlight stronger on Syria. Recently US officials have either publicly stated or leaked to the press possible action against Syria. Walker said that limited military action was in the cards. â€œIf the Syrians don't [act], then this administration will up the ante with military action and we would see cross-border operations,â€ he said acknowledging that â€œall this talk of military intervention is a conscious leak to build the pressure.â€
However, if the results of the UN investigation of Hariri's death point to Syria, the affect on Syria could be fatal to the regime. Elements in the Syrian regime are widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Hariri in February. International pressure led by the US and France following his death forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon after almost 30 years.
Now, as a UN investigation into Hariri's death comes close to the October 21 submission date, the US and France have joined efforts to prepare to act in the case that someone from Syria is implicated in the assassination. Together the two countries are trying to rally international support for a resolution against Syria in the UN Security Council in the form of an economic embargo. That said, a US-based Syrian expert, could cause the collapse of his country.
â€œIf the Europeans and the Arab states went along with the American pressure then yes, it could bring the collapse of the regime,â€ Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian national and the Director of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, told The Post.
The US accuses Syria of supporting insurgents fighting in Iraq by allowing them to cross through Syria. It also accuses Syria of supporting terrorist groups in Israel and meddling in Lebanese affairs. Since Hariri's death a number of journalists and former politicians that opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon have been targets of assassination.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday in Paris that Syria must demonstrate â€œfull cooperation with Detlev Mehlis,â€ head of the UN investigation team.
After her meeting with the Foreign Minister of France, which went hand in hand with the US in pressuring Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, Rice renewed the US demand on Syria not to get involved in Lebanese internal affairs.
â€œWhat is very clear is that the international community is demanding of Syria that it fully implement 1559 and that it not engage in activities that destabilize its Lebanese neighbor,â€ said Rice.
Such action is expected to include a demand to hand over the individuals who took part in the murder, even if they are holding positions in the Syrian government, said diplomatic sources. This notion is similar to the deal reached with Libya after the bombing of the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then too, Libya was pressured to hand over its citizens accused of planning the attack and only after Muammar Gaddafi agreed to this condition, the international pressure was eased.
The Times of London reported Saturday that â€œin the past ten daysâ€ the US has offered Syria a deal in which the Assad regime will agree to cooperate with the UN investigation, turn over citizens involved in the murder, stop interfering in Lebanon and close the border with Iraq, in return for ending Syria's international isolation. This is similar to the â€œGaddafi dealâ€ in which he cooperated in the Lockerbie case and gave up his nuclear program, resulting in improved relations with the US and the West.
Analysts say the deal was leaked to The Times by the American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who opposes it. By leaking it â€œhe scuttled it,â€ said the Beirut-based analysts and Joshua Landis, an American analyst based in Damascus, writing in his weblog.
In a speech in London, Bolton said that if Syria is involved in the Hariri murder the Americans will deal with it â€œvery seriously.â€
â€œThe military option is talk at this point but could quickly turn into reality if Syria is implicated in the Mehlis report,â€ said Walker. â€œIf it's not implicated, you have to go to the drawing board. But we will certainly continue to put pressure on Syria over the border issue.â€
â€œThe collapse of the regime, if it were to happen, would be dangerous to the region,â€ said Jouejati. He added, â€œThe only opposition group in Syria that would be able to mobilize the street is the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party, which albeit banned, has an ideology rooted in the local culture.â€
â€œIf Washington wants a regime cheap it has to weigh the consequences. If that were to happen, Israel would have the Muslim Brotherhood as its northern neighbor. And what Murhaf Jouejati says to that is: 'good luck.'â€
Nathan Guttman contributed to this report.
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