If it comes to pass as anticipated, the demise of Syrian President Bashar Assad will not be mourned. The despot who has managed to hold on to power for a year and a half against a persistent rebel force has shown once again what an oppressive Syrian regime is capable of doing to its own people.
After the death of Hafez Assad in 2000, following near three decades of rule, there had been hope that the Western-educated son could bring a new era of economic and political reform to his land. But the destructive policies begun by his father, including the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah as well as the political meddling in Lebanon, only intensified under Bashar.
Over the past year, as he resisted calls for reform that were sweeping the Arab world, it became apparent that he had no qualms about using the same brutality that his father unleashed in Hama, massacring some 10,000 Syrian citizens in 1982. A reported 20,000 Syrians have been killed in what is now an all-out civil war.
Assad's demise would boost U.S. and Israeli interests in several ways, most notably by eliminating Iran's most vital ally and weakening Hezbollah, the terrorist organization in neighboring Lebanon that Iran and Syria support. Syria has long played an outsized and destructive role in Lebanon. It has also long served as a conduit for Iranian weapons to Hezbollah.
At the same time, the vacuum created by an Assad defeat poses potentially dangerous outcomes for Israel and the West. There is increasing evidence that some of the rebel leaders are Islamists sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and that Al Qaida has gained a foothold amid the chaos. As has occurred in Egypt and elsewhere, a shift from a despotic secular regime to an Islamist democratic one does not necessarily bode well and will require yet another recalculation for Israeli security along its northern border.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, is prudent in not intervening militarily as it did in Libya, despite the repeated pleas by rebel forces for Western assistance. Yet it is also wise to be working jointly with Turkey to plan humanitarian and logistical assistance to help prevent the emergence of a post-Assad anarchy on Israel's doorstep.
The Assad regime, in the words of his recently defected prime minister, is "crumbling."A woman in Aleppo quoted in the Wall Street Journal this week underlined the uncertainty among the Syrian population as the fighting intensified in her city.
"We are happy that the rebels came," she said, but "I'm not happy about all the bloodshed. We are with the side of right. the regime is not right. We're waiting to see if the rebels are right." So, too, is the rest of the world.