How the Fall of Assad Could Change Lebanon

Could Assad take Nasrallah down with him?

Mustapha, over at Beirut Spring, posted some interesting thoughts on the effect the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad would have on Lebanon. He was spurred on by Hanin Ghaddar’s article at Now Lebanon in which she wrote:

There will be no space for either March 8 or March 14 in the post-Assad era in Lebanon. They will be replaced by new, dynamic leaders who act as fitting counterparts to the new political breed in Syria.

Mustapha correctly calls this a rather naive point of view. Though it is true that the Syrian control over Lebanon will be weakened, major political differences will continue to exist between the two political groups. Even under new leadership, Syria will inevitably play a massive role in Lebanon considering the political and economic ties between the two countries as well as the position of geographical linchpin that Syria holds in the Iran/Hezbollah alliance. Mustapha raises two interesting potentialities concerning the Lebanon/Syria relationship should Assad fall:

1- We should allow for the possibility of a nightmare scenario: Civil war happens in Syria where minorities are killed, a large exodus from Syria  to Lebanon takes place and a huge refugee crisis is created.  A big blow to the Lebanese economy ensues as our exposure to the Syrian economy becomes clearer. In this scenario, all options are open and it is pointless to make any predictions.

2- More likely, Syria will go through an Iraqi Scenario: Assad will get replaced by a Sunni-dominated government, which with strong support from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the GCC, will make a strategic shift to join the “moderate” Arab countries. The effect on Lebanon will be the strengthening of the Saudi and West-friendly Future Movement and its allies, in addition to a probable defection of Mr. Berri’s Amal movement. Hezbollah and the FPM won’t go away, but they will be weakened.

Should Assad fall, there will likely be a fairly long transition period where the new Syria attempts to find and define itself, eventually moving towards the second option. This transition period will likely be marked by sporadic violence as the former opposition finds divisions within its ranks and different factions push for power. While there is a chance of a slip into the nightmare scenario of civil war, it seems likely that the support of the regional Sunni actors combined with the general fatigue caused by Assad’s crackdown will make all out civil war less likely.

A slip towards civil war will be more likely if Assad does not fall and continues his crackdown against the Syrian people. Should unarmed protest continue to produce no results, more people will start pushing for a Libyan style armed uprising. Considering the loyalty of the army (somewhat caused by fears of sectarian discrimination against Alawites in a post-Assad Syria,) an armed rebel army would lack the arms and training that the Libyan rebels were given by defecting soldiers and commanders. Consequently, the civil war would likely resemble an armed guerrilla insurgency rather than the more conventional fighting that took place in Libya. Regardless of how it plays out, any move towards civil war would certainly be a nightmare scenario for Syria – and, as Mustapha notes, for Lebanon and Turkey who will be forced to absorb a flurry of new refugees.

In either of these scenarios, though, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies will continue to play a major role in Lebanon. Any article that lumps Hezbollah’s fate together with that of Assad is light on real analysis and heavy on some serious wishful thinking.

Photo from the Gateway Pundit

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