Is Assad next to go?
It is to be devoutly wished but is probably not in the immediate future.
The Telegraph's Michael Weiss:
Now that portraits of Muammar Gaddafi have been perforated with rebel bullets, it's worth asking how Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, must be feeling this morning. Like Gaddafi, the Syrian dictator has spent the last five months waging war on own his own population, albeit to an even more gruesome degree: Assad has made good on the threats which the Mad Dog only muttered about.
Like Gaddafi, he now faces credible charges of crimes against humanity matched by an almost total diplomatic isolation on the world's stage. (Only Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah remain the Syrian state's stalwart defenders; Iran has reportedly cut off funds to Hamas for failing to stand up for their tottering patron.) Also like Gaddafi, Assad's engaged in a risible propaganda campaign attended by hollow calls for "reform" and democratisation. New elections, Assad said in response to President Obama's call for him to go, will be held next year. They may well be, but not at his prompting or orchestration. If he's been watching Al Arabiya or Al Jazeera this weekend, Assad has likely soiled himself in the knowledge that he's next.
According to the Syrian opposition, the regime is hoping turn the mountainous north of Syria into a heavily fortified Alawite stronghold, essentially bifurcating the country into sectarian halves. The ethnic cleansing in Lattakia is already well attested: 5,000 Palestinian refugees went missing from the port city a week ago, as other residents have either fled or had their ID cards confiscated. In order to get the cards back, they've had to check in at a sports stadium where they've been held hostage, forced to pose for photographs and videos as cheerleaders of the regime.
Clearly, as long as Assad can count on his loyal Alawite militia and a couple of battalions of loyal Alawite soldiers, he can hold out indefinitely. And if placed in a strategically unassailable position, it would be years - if ever - before he was ousted.
A truncated Syria would be a boon to Israel. Taking Assad off the board as a major threat would allow the IDF to concentrate more on Iran and Hamas. But don't expect such a result anytime soon. The Syrian opposition needs help in organizing before they can challenge Assad on that level.