By Jamie Crawford
It’s only a “question of time” before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power, the top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
“I do not see how [Assad] can sustain his rule of Syria,” James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. But the fall of the strongman could be still a “long” way off given the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition, he said.
CIA Director David Petraeus said the Syrian opposition is “growing” and showing a “considerable amount of resilience and indeed is carrying out an increasing level of violence,” as it engages with the Syrian military on the outskirts of Syria’s two largest cities.
The question of who would emerge, and what the country would look like in the wake of Assad’s ouster still looms large for both intelligence officials. Petraeus said one would “assume that there would be leadership from the Sunni Arab community of the country which is certainly the majority, as opposed to the Alawite minority that is the core of the regime.”
What happens inside Syria is also of “great concern” to Iran, Clapper said. Iran is “expending great effort in terms of resources and advice,” he said, “to try to prop up the Assad regime.”
“Clearly the loss of Syria as a logistics platform, a line of communication into Lebanon to support Hezbollah would be a substantial setback” for Iran and its efforts to use Hezbollah as a proxy against Israel, Petraeus said.
The Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, remains “heavily engaged” inside Syria to keep the Assad regime in power, Petraeus said.