Kaveh L Afrasiabi, "Does Gaddafi's Fate Await Assad?"
Indeed, the down side of NATO's Libya campaign is that it has depleted the available resources for another campaign in the immediate future, particularly since Syria will definitely prove a much more formidable opponent than Gaddafi's rag-tag mostly militia army. A NATO campaign in Syria will cause a much bigger flood of refugees to Turkey, damage Turkey's relations with both Iran and Russia and turn upside down its cherished foreign policy approach of "zero problems with neighbors." On the other hand, if NATO makes a habit of it by going into Syria next, then the pressure on the Western alliance to target US-friendly regimes in Bahrain and Yemen will undoubtedly grow as well, hardly a bright prospect for Saudi leaders who are so keen to cause a regime change in Damascus. Not only that, a NATO intervention in Syria will without a shred of doubt lead to Iran's direct military support for Damascus, another big difference with Libya, which lacked an external ally. Perhaps equally important is the existence of an external enemy -- namely, Israel -- which serves to unite Syria in a strong nationalist current which Libya under Gaddafi lacked. Confronted with an intransigent Israel unwilling to negotiate away the prized strategic Golan Heights, Syria is locked-in, geostrategically speaking, and no matter what future variations in its form of government, the constant variable of external threats will prevent a wholesale foreign policy reorientation in Syria irrespective of who is in power. But, in addition to purely military-strategic calculations pointing at the vast dissimilarities of Libya and Syria, the political milieu in the two countries differs in another important respect: the Syrian regime is far more complex and more capable of self-reform, within set limits. (See Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis, Stratfor, May 5, 2011) As a result, Assad's promise of meaningful constitutional change, free elections come next March, and allowing a multi-party political environment to flourish, together with his decision to allow a UN inspection of his country's political situation, may prove to be a step just in time to avert a full-scale civil war akin to Libya. An important factor is the speed of political reconciliation and near-term elections; March may be seven months away but to placate the impatient political opposition Assad may want to accelerate the process by holding the elections in December or January and, equally important, making good on his promise in a televised interview with Syrian TV regarding the rights of political parties to function without fear of a clamp down.