As Assad has come under mounting pressure from a revolt at home and moves to isolate him abroad, initial wariness by Israeli officials of speaking publicly about the fate of his regime has given way to open speculation about how long he can hold on to power, who might replace him and the possible risks of a chaotic disintegration of his rule.
“Basically, it’s inevitable,” Barak said in a telephone interview before flying Wednesday to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other administration officials. “The Assad family, through their own behavior, have lost their last drop of legitimacy and put themselves beyond the point of no return with their brutal slaughter of their own people. He has ceased to be something relevant.”
“It might take many weeks,” Barak added, “but it’s not a matter of months or years.”
In a separate interview, Moshe Yaalon, the minister of strategic affairs, said: “It’s a matter of time and bloodshed before we will witness Assad’s departure. That is our assessment.”
Obama administration officials have expressed equal certainty that Assad will eventually leave, but they and Arab countries that are trying to persuade him to stand down anticipate a far longer timeline extending well into next year.
“Our view is that this regime is the equivalent of [a] dead man walking,” Frederic Hof, the State Department’s point man for Syria, told a congressional subcommittee Wednesday. “But the real question is, how many steps remain?”
“I think it is very, very, very difficult to predict or project how much time this regime has,” Hof said.
Hof fended off calls by lawmakers to provide military support to the Syrian opposition, saying it is not yet unified and needs to gain the support of frightened minorities convinced by Assad that their rights won’t be respected in any new government. Promoting a violent response from heretofore peaceful demonstrators would play into Assad’s hands, he said.
A ‘major blow’ for Iran
Barak predicted that an eventual ouster of Assad would undermine an alliance of Israel’s enemies, including militant Islamist groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, backed by Iran and Syria, that have fought Israel across its northern and southern borders.
“When the Assad family falls, it will be a major blow to the radical axis led by Iran,” Barak said “It will weaken Iran, it will weaken Hezbollah and weaken the backing for Hamas, and it will deprive the Iranians of a real stronghold in the Arab world. It will strengthen Turkey, which is a natural rival to Iran’s hegemonic intentions. . . . This is something positive for Israel.”