Syrian President Bashar Assad got a “license to kill” anti-government demonstrators because the United Nations failed to impose the kind of tough measures that helped topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, according to a former chief of Israeli military intelligence.
“Unfortunately, Bashar got a ‘license to kill.’ Not formal, not explicit, but he understood that unlike Libya, there will not be a Security Council resolution because Russia will protect him,” retired Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said.
“He understood that the Arab League is not willing to ask America or NATO to attack him, so he is basically immune from international intervention, which means he can do what Gadhafi was not allowed to do.”
Russia, along with China, blocked efforts by the U.S. and European Union last month to impose U.N. Security Council sanctions against Mr. Assad. Russia is one of Syria’s main arms suppliers.
In March, the Security Council imposed a no-fly zone over Libya after rebels began an uprising that eventually led to the overthrow of the dictator, who is now on the run. The 22-country Arab League supported the U.N. action.
Mr. Yadlin contradicted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who predicted last month that Mr. Assad’s “fate is sealed,” a sentiment echoed by many observers during Syria’s bloody six-month repression of protests. The United Nations estimates that Mr. Assad’s forces have killed at least 2,200 people.
“I think there is an interference of wishful thinking with the reality,” said Mr. Yadlin, whose four-year term ended in December.
In May, Mr. Yadlin — now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — co-wrote a paper arguing that Mr. Assad’s ouster is desirable despite uncertainty about who will replace him.
“At that time, I was a lone voice,” he said. “I think by now, many in Israel and here understand that it will probably be better if he goes.”
Mr. Yadlin said he sees no evidence that the “main middle class,” including Sunni Muslim traders, is abandoning Mr. Assad in the capital, Damascus, and in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
“Aleppo and Damascus are still very quiet. People try not to see it, but this is a fact, unfortunately,” Mr. Yadlin said.
He also noted that Mr. Assad has retained the loyalty of the military, unlike in Libya, where significant numbers of officers joined the rebels.
“You don’t see many defections,” he said. “You can see on YouTube a captain, a major, but a real defection is that the unit disintegrates or even that a brigadier general takes a division, and you don’t see it.”
Mr. Assad also is holding onto Syrian minorities, including Christians, Kurds and Druze.
“He said to his minorities, ‘Look what happened in Iraq. Look what happened in Lebanon. Look what happened to the Christians in Egypt. I am better for you,’ ” Mr. Yadlin said.
Mr. Yadlin said the Druze, an Islamic offshoot, is a particularly reliable bellwether for predicting Mr. Assad’s future.
“The Druze have a very good smell of where things are going,” he said. “If I don’t see the Druze deserting him, he will still be there.”
Mr. Yadlin said the “most problematic parameter” for Mr. Assad is Syria’s “unsustainable” economy, noting the tourism and foreign investment the country has lost and international sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU.
However, he added, Iran, another close Syrian ally, could rescue his economy.
“If the Iranians take care of it and write him a check for $5 billion a year, he is safe,” Mr. Yadlin said.
He also predicted that Hezbollah militants in Lebanon would feel little impact if Mr. Assad were ousted because of Syria’s declining influence with the anti-Israeli terrorists.
“It used to be Syria controlling Hezbollah and Iran helping. Now it’s Iran using Syria as a corridor — as a pipe, as an agent — to help Hezbollah,” he said. “So instead of sending weapons through Damascus International Airport, they will do it through Turkey or through the Mediterranean. It’s less convenient, but it won’t dry Hezbollah.”