As the Gaddafi regime slowly crumbles there are many questions to ask about what comes next both there and in the broader region. What will be the nature of the government which takes over from the former dictator? Will it be a tolerant one? Will it be democratic or at least more inclusive than Gaddafi’s was? Or will it be a captive Islamist regime? I ask these questions because it is very important both for Libya and for the region that there not be bloodletting in the aftermath of the soon to be ex-ruler’s fall. As Ban Ki Moon has said today, he should be handed over to the ICC for trial. There should be no blood vengeance against Gaddafi, his family, or members of the former élite as tempting as it may be for those who suffered to take it out on them.
The Israeli government and the anti-Islamic far-right is eager for Libya to lapse into chaos. This would prove their certainty at the perfidy of Arabs and Muslims, their certainty that there can never be peace with them. This will in turn reinforce the Occupation and continue the bloodshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As Gaddafi falls, Tom Lehrer would be singing the lyrics to his song, Who’s Next. Surely it is Bashar al Assad of Syria. His opponents are legion, they are brave, they are unarmed, they are fearless. They deserve freedom. But they have not raised an army as the Libya resistance did. The only way to use force to topple Assad would be if Turkey wishes to use its own army to do so, which is questionable. Certainly, NATO will not get involved. Barring the use of force, it may take quite a while for Assad to fall. It would require more of the élite to desert him and even more forceful and popular resistance.
But certainly, in essence, Assad no longer rules Syria. He has no government that rules the entire country. There is a restless patchwork of regions and towns in varying stages of rebellion. As soon as one rebellion comes to a boil, the army marches in, slaughters a few dozen, and then moves on to the next restive town or city. This is certainly not governing. So it’s only a matter of time before Assad goes, but go he will eventually.
The question becomes what sort of government will replace him? As far as Israel is concerned, it’s even more critical that the new rulers emulate the Egyptian model by ruling in a moderate fashion that eschews violence or revenge. It is also important that the Muslim Brotherhood not take sole control of the country, since that too would play into the hands of Israel’s extreme right. A new regime would also likely reject Assad’s alliance with Iran, which also would be a positive development for overall peace in the region.
I recently read that Iran is furious with the Hamas leadership in Damascus because it has withheld support for Assad in his hour of need. In return, Iran has turned off the spigot to the Palestinian Islamist group preventing it from paying salaries in Gaza this month. Also, Assad recently attacked the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus in a clear message to Hamas that he was unhappy with its retreat from him. I don’t believe the Syrian dictator wanted a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until Israel gave him back the Golan. So Assad was an obstacle to I-P peace.
The fall of Assad holds out hope that a new Syrian government might exert a moderating influence on Hamas leading to a potential resolution of the conflict with Israel, though I realize that this is an uncertain prospect.
Israel, in turn, should not expect Syria to be as restrained as Assad was in keeping a lid on anti-Israel sentiment within the country. A new Syrian government, possibly in alliance with Turkey and Egypt, could exert formidable pressure on Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This can only be a good thing.