Case Studies of High-risk Actors In looking at each of the following high-risk cases, we consider the actor’s capability, intent, targeting criteria and operational history and principles; what could motivate the actor to pursue WMD; and the changes in the actor’s behavior that could indicate a shift in that direction.
These overall comments from Stick: It seems to me like we spend much more time looking at that what is physically required to acquire capability than the decision-making process -- which is what we say we are analyzing. What is it that the client wants us to analyze? We don’t define geopolitical markers very well. We spend several pages on technical markers., then we say geopolitical markers may be more useful than the technical markers at alerting us to proliferation, but then don’t really define what these markers are and what they signify. In fact, we only devote a couple of paragraphs to them. If they are indeed so significant, we need to flesh them out and explain them to the reader. What do we need to watch for? For example, we say that “Iran is currently on its way toward a nuclear weapons program, following the enrichment path.” But we don’t provide the geopolitical markers that have been passed along that path that signify where Iran currently is with the program. How do these markers apply to non-state actors, or to the proliferation of WMD to them? [The geopolitical markers are discussed in depth in each of the country studies that follow.] State and NonState Actors
IRAN Pursuit of WMD Iran has a proud military tradition of being the only power in the Mideast whose borders and ethno-linguistic identity have more or less stayed intact throughout the 20th Century. The country still looks at the Persian Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great that began in 550 B.C. as its golden moment in history. Celebrations commemorating Cyrus the Great continue to this day, revealing the extent to which Iran is determined to reassert itself as a global player.
While Iran’s energy assets allowed the country to more or less sustain a self-sufficient economy following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, they also made the country vulnerable to foreign invasions. In line with the Islamic Revolution’s objectives, the country would no longer depend on a Western military power for its national security, and instead looked toward non-conventional means to ensure its territorial integrity through indigenous capabilities. Nuclear weapons fell squarely into this strategy as Iran outlined a path for the country to reclaim its position as the regional kingmaker.
Strategic interests drove Iran’s decision to seriously pursue a nuclear capability in the mid 1980’s But the leaders of the Islamic Revolution developed their hardened rejection to foreign intervention long before.
The discovery of oil in Iran in the early 1900s represented a major threat to Iran’s territorial integrity, culminating in the occupation of Iran in the north by the Soviets and the south by the British during WWII. (The British left with the signing of the 1943 Tehran declaration; The Soviets were largely unsuccessful in securing oil concessions and consolidating their influence in the north, leading to their withdrawal in 1946.) The occupation of Iran during this period had a profound impact on the country, as the realization set in that the country was militarily incapable of defending itself against outside powers and that its leaders had fatally squandered the country’s resources. By the end of WWII, an opening was made for the United States to become the principle foreign player in Iran and answer Iranian needs for a stronger military arsenal. Establishing a stronghold in Iran, a Shiite power that proved to be a useful counterbalance against its Sunni Arab neighbors, was key to U.S. strategy in the Mideast to secure energy assets and counter Soviet expansion in the Mideast. When Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the country’s oil industry, the United States did not hesitate to undertake covert action to bring his government down.
The United States made arrangements for Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to secure his standing in Tehran and move forward with an agenda to establish closer relations with the West. To squash any opposition to the Shah, the CIA assisted in creating Iran’s internal security/intelligence apparatus, the SAVAK. Most importantly, the United States supplied Iran with more than $20 billion worth of arms, ammunition, training and technical assistance/ The Iranians were receiving the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry from the US at the time. The U.S. determination to rebuild Iran into the strong power it once was reached a point to where the U.S. built Iran’s first nuclear reactor.
Eventually the marginalization of the Iranian opposition, poor economic conditions and the Shah’s unwavering alliance with the United State created a strong current of resentment, particularly among the Islamic clergy who resented the growing secularization of the country under the Shah. The United States’ plans for Iran were shattered when an Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini deposed the Shah in 1979 and set Iran on a path directly opposed to the U.S. policy. Khomeini’s revolution basically put the country back in Iranian hands with a vow to secure the country’s territorial integrity from outside powers.
At first, Khomeini rejected the Western-tainted military and nuclear reactor acquisitions of the former regime. When the Shah fell in 1979, Iran had six nuclear reactors under contract, two which were more than halfway completed. These projects came to a halt after the revolution. Iran turned its attention to reorganizing its military structure and created a new unit, the Revolutionary Guard as an ideologically-based corp to defend the interests of the revolution.
Though Iran had successfully purged the country of Western influence, it had a more immediate threat on its western flank. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein watched closely as the new Iranian regime abandoned efforts to maintain its military arsenal. He took advantage of Iran’s introspective years following the revolution and launched an air and land invasion into western Iran in Sept. 1980. Iraq’s aim was to essentially double its oil wealth with the acquisition of Iran’s western oil fields. Iran was ill-equipped and untrained to effectively stave off Iraqi forces and took a hard hit when Iraq unleashed its chemical weapons arsenal. When Iran resorted to attacks on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian gulf, the subsequent U.S. airstrikes on Iran’s military installations dealt a serious blow to the regime’s military capability, as well as its international standing. Iran saw U.S. military support for Iraq during the war as the leading cause of its downfall in the war, which eventually ended in a stalemate in 1988.
Iran at this point became critically aware that it was a Shiite power surrounded by hostile Sunni Arab states. With U.S. assistance, Arab leaders like Saddam Hussein could be employed by Washington to reverse the Islamic revolution and threaten the clerical regime’s hold on power. Feeling politically and militarily vulnerable, Iran reactivated its nuclear program and sought out willing nuclear suppliers from Pakistan, China and North Korea. With a nuclear capability, Iran would have the means to more effectively thwart foreign intrusions and raise its status in the region. The large piece to Iran’s strategy lay in securing its western flank from Iraq, an opportunity that presented itself following the 9/11 attacks when the United States made the decision to topple the Hussein regime. Through a variety of manipulations, Iran has now positioned itself to consolidate Shiite control in Iraq.
Operational History: When the Islamic Revolution took root, Iran had to search for new avenues to compensate for its loss of U.S. military support. There was a strong, underlying need for Iran to avoid becoming dependent on outside powers for military assistance. While Iran worked toward building up its conventional military capability, it is at this time that we see the Iranians turn toward unconventional tactics to meet its military aims:
The Basij militia – the Basij militia was a voluntary force of tens of thousands of child soldiers created during the Iran-Iraq war. Religious fervor drew these young men to volunteer in martyrdom oppositions, in which scores of these youths that were picked from the poorer ranks of society were ordered to charge the mine-filled battlefield across the Iran-Iraq border to bush back against Iraqi forces. Some were given light arms to defend themselves, but most had nothing but their Qur’ans when they went into battle. The strategy was successful in a military sense, but came at the expense of thousands of lives lost – an entire generation of Iranian men was nearly wiped out.
The Basij militia today is primarily responsible for enforcing the country’s strict Islamic code. However, these youths are on reserve for a potential military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has raised the cost of a U.S. ground invasion from Iraq into Iran by keeping on hand nearly a million young soldiers to engage in suicide operations against invading forces. The Iranians have made it clear that the U.S. would be facing another Iraq-style insurgency if it chooses to threaten Iran by land.
Hezbollah– Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps creates created Hezbollah in the early 80’s in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Iran was able to successfully build up a militant non-state actor in the heart of the Arab world to challenge Israeli and western interference in the region. In its early days, Hezbollah was heavily engaged in suicide attacks and kidnappings. Hezbollah has now developed a strong political wing, and has demonstrated the military capability to resist a conventional Israeli offensive. While Iran’s military capability may be called into question in a conventional war against the US/Israel, it can rely on Hezbollah to get Israel to think twice before taking military action against Iran.
Badr brigade – Created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Badr Organization was intended to serve as a conventional military force to fight against the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war. The Badr forces formally became the military wing of SCIRI in 1983 in Tehran and are heavily reliant on the IRGC for arms, funding and training. The Badr corps were crushed in a Shiite uprising in Iraq in ’91, but were kept on reserve for the day when Saddam Hussein’s regime would fall and the Shiites could retake power from the Sunnis – provided by the US with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Badr brigades have proven to be an effective Iranian tool in Iraq – currently the most sophisticated and capable Shiite militia in Iraq. Through its control of Shiite militant actors in Iraq, the Iranian regime has made it clear that it can manipulate the security situation in the country enough to raise the cost for the US to maintain a large troop presence in the country. Moreover, the US knows that if Israel and/or the US launched air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, U.S. forces in Iraq would take the hit from Iran’s Shiite militant assets.
Nuclear weaponization –The development of an indigenous nuclear weapons program is key to Iran’s long-term strategy to consolidate its position in the region. Iran needs the deterrent capability to ward off any threats of foreign invasion from the United States, Russia, Israel or any other foreign power that makes its way into the region. The ease in which the Iraqis invaded Iran in the early 1980’s reinforced the need for Iran to secure its western flank.
More immediately, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons can be used as a bargaining chip in dealing with the United States over Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion, the Iranians have conveniently ratcheted up the nuclear threat while maintaining security guarantees from Russia and China in the UNSC whenever it wished to manipulate back-channel talks it held with the US over Iraq.
Nuclear weapons also allow Iran to assert its regional prowess and reclaim its historical position from the Arabs. By resisting Western pressure to put a cap on its program and pushing forward with its nuclear agenda, Iran wishes to earn the respect of Muslims across the Arab world. The development of Iran into a nuclear power also helps the clerical regime to maintain its hold over the country by shaping the nuclear issue into a source of national pride for Iranians.
Tehran has also adroitly maneuvered the controversy surrounding its nuclear ambitions. Iran has utilized the nuclear issue to secure gains in Iraq and vice-versa. Not only has it prevented the United States from pursuing an aggressive policy on the nuclear issue, Tehran has kept the international community divided.
Its status as an oil exporting country has allowed Iran to underwrite all these projects as well as develop itself economically and militarily. The tactics of alignment with fellow Shia, backing radical Sunni Islamists, supporting anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli agendas and befriending other anomalous entities has allowed Iran to also forge the strategic alliance with Syria. Perhaps the most rudimentary and underlying operational principle the Iranians utilize is their shrewd political acumen, which allows them to take advantage of geopolitical openings.
A key example of this is the cooperation against al-Qaeda that Tehran provided to the United States (behind the scenes) in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks. Assisting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan created the conditions in which the two sides worked jointly to effect regime change in Iraq. Additionally, the Iranians were able to use their influence among Iraqi Shia groups and the quagmire faced by U.S. troops in the wake of the Sunni and jihadist insurgencies to their advantage.
Behavioral Analysis Iran’s core leadership has a vested interest in developing a full nuclear capability and has carefully positioned itself to achieve this objective. It is highly unlikely that Iran would capitulate on its nuclear aims unless the survival of the regime was seriously threatened. By keeping the United States militarily occupied in Iraq and Israel militarily occupied by Hezbollah, Iran is buying time to further advance its nuclear program to ensure that a nuclear Iran is accepted as part of any deal that the United States wants on Iraq. Though the pieces are falling in place for Iran to successfully complete this agenda, there are potential arresters that warrant consideration.
Israel and/or the US could decide to launch preventive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities to set the Iranian nuclear program back several years. Israel does not wish to be forced into a peer nuclear rivalry with the Iranians, and has a strong interest in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons deterrent. The Iranians took careful note of Iraq’s Osirak experience and strategically dispersed its nuclear sites to decrease the chances of its programs being wiped out in a single air offensive. Israel’s options in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue are limited, given the weakened U.S. position in Iraq. Israel would much rather attack Iran in a coordinated strike with the U.S., which will be better positioned to launch tactical nuclear bunker buster strikes on Iran’s underground facilities. However, with U.S. forces exposed in Iraq and with a political resolution over Iraq still well into the distance, the United States cannot afford to take the risk of engaging Iran militarily at present.
Though Israel still has time before Iran reaches the weapons stage of its nuclear development, it has the contingency plan in place to launch these preventive strikes. The regional fallout for such action would be minimal, as the Sunni Arab states (mainly Saudi Arabia) would welcome and even privately support the crippling of Iran’s nuclear capability.
Iran is using this window of opportunity of U.S. weakness and Israeli preoccupation with Hezbollah to advance its nuclear program as much as possible. Should Iran become concerned that an Israeli strike is imminent, it could blockade the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt the world’s energy supply, which will subsequently invite U.S. air strikes on Iranian military installations – a high political and military risk for Iran to take. Iran would also activate its Shiite militant assets in Iraq against U.S. forces, in Lebanon against Israeli forces with Hezbollah and encourage Shiite uprisings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. Iran would also rely on Hamas to launch attacks against Israel. Should Iran be able to provide sufficient security guarantees for Damascus, the Syrians could also launch attacks against Israel to force Israel to fight a multi-front war. There is also the possibility that Iran would unleash trained forces in CONUS to launch attacks and increase the costliness for the United States to engage in a military confrontation. The above would obviously be a last resort scenario for the Iranians to employ. Though Iran does have a dispersed military arsenal of conventional and non-conventional tactics, it cannot be assured it will be able to take the hit of a coordinated U.S./Israeli air campaign.
Iran will try to preempt any military action by showing its willingness to deal on Iraq. If such a crisis emerges, Iran has all the switches in places to switch gears and enter serious negotiations on Hezbollah, Hamas, its nuclear program and Iraq. In return for its cooperation, Iran would save its nuclear program from destruction. Even if the nuclear program is frozen, the Iranians would still have the means to evade regulations and sanctions to continue with its nuclear agenda.
Depending on the United States’ handling of the Iraq situation, another realistic possibility is that Iran adroitly manages to keep the US militarily constrained in Iraq and Israel’s hands tied long enough to develop a full nuclear capability.
Though unsettling for much of the international community, a nuclear Iran is unlikely to shift its operational strategy. At this point, Iran would have achieved its objective of developing a strong deterrent capability to reinforce its use of non-state actors throughout the region. Iran’s objectives of consolidating influence in Iraq will also likely be met by the time Iran develops this capability. With the cards in place, Iran will have positioned itself as the powerhouse of the Islamic world. The reality of a nuclear Iran will have already set off a nuclear arms race in the region, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the lead to develop their own nuclear programs to counter Iran. For the Sunni Arab states, they cannot be assured that Iran’s march in the region will stop at Iraq. Saudi Arabia in particular will be concerned for the safety of its oil fields and its claim to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. Given Israel’s lack of strategic depth, the cost would be too high for Israel to engage Iran in a nuclear confrontation at this point. Nuclear proliferation in the world’s most volatile region will undoubtedly have a major impact on world energy markets. Though Iran would have nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the deterrent utility of its nuclear program will allow the country to stick to its modus operandi of employing non-state militant actors and conventional military tactics to achieve its strategic interests.
SYRIA Pursuit of WMD Ever since Syria became a state entity in the wake of the Ottoman defeat in World War I, it has sought to dominate the Levant. Arab nationalism remained the basic tool of the Syrians through the periods of French domination, its independence in 1946 and the following three coup-ridden decades. But it wasn’t until the Baath Party dominated by the country’s minority Alawite sect consolidated its hold on power in 1970 that Syria had the internal focus to vary its MO.
The al-Assad clan, which is a further subset of the Alawite sect and the Baath Party, has emerged as the ruling elite in the country with Syrian President Bashar al Assad currently at the helm. As a minority Shiite government in a majority Sunni Arab country, Syria under the al Assad regime has been an anomalous power in the region. The al Assad goverment has consistently kept its distance from surrounding Arab neighbors, while developing a warming relationship with its Shiite allies in Iran. Through its support of the Iranian-created Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian regime has essentially bought insurance from the Iranians to help safeguard its national interests. Syria’s rebellious nature and willingness to support militant actors in the region make it particularly vulnerable to a military confrontation, thus raising the need for Syria to bolster its deterrent strength through the production of WMD, with chemical weapons currently falling within its realm of capability.
The country’s main objectives include preserving the Alawite-Baathist regime, maintaining its territorial integrity (securing the return of the Golan Heights from Israel, suppressing Kurdish and Sunni domestic opposition, preventing the deteriorating security situation Iraq from posing a larger security threat through Kurdish and jihadist non-state actors), consolidating influence in Lebanon for its own financial and political interests (losing control in Lebanon would financially impact Syria’s ruling elite and military generals, thus posing a threat to regime security) and finally, developing Syria into stronger and more influential player in the Middle East (Syria competes with Saudi Arabia and Egypt for influence), which involves a desire to engage the United States and pull the regime out of diplomatic isolation.
Operational History Over the course of the last 37 years, the Syrian police state has pursued its objectives through a variety of means:
Syria has maintained a monopoly over Iran Lebanon to economically sustain the Syrian regime and national security through the use of its military and intelligence apparatus and by playing off inter-communal and intra-communal rivalries among Lebanon’s principal confessional groups (Shia, Sunni, Maronites, Druze). A preferred intimidation tactic by the Syrians is the use of car bombings in political assassinations against anti-Syrian elements in Lebanon..
Syria has developed a chemical and biological weapons programs as a
deterrent to Israel’s military superiority and the nuclear arsenal of the Jewish state. Syria currently does not have the capability to develop a nuclear program, and has thus opted for the “poor man’s nuke” in developing a robust chemical weapons capability.
Syria has supported radical Palestinian groups, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Lebanon’s radical Shiite Islamist movement Hezbollah to exert pressure on Israel. Syria’s support for Hezbollah also helps to ensure that Syrian interests in Lebanon are maintained and counter Saudi attempts to edge its way into the Levant. Syria’s support for the Palestinian groups allows Syria to challenge Egyptian primacy as the leading Arab mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Syria has supported Sunni nationalist guerillas and facilitated the movement of jihadists in Iraq as a way to block any potential U.S. moves to effect regime change in Damascus.
Syria has sought a closer relationship to Iran as it is becoming increasingly clear that Iran is on the rise in the region. Iran for Syria presents a useful alternative to developing a working relationship with the West for regime security.
Syria, as a police state, has brutally suppressed domestic opposition forces including Islamist, secular, and Kurdish forces.
Behavioral analysis Syria’s chemical weapons capability is unlikely to act as a solid deterrent against a potential incursion by a foreign adversary (most likely Israel). Syria realizes the need to bolster its WMD capability and has considerations in place to pursue the nuclear path. Syria’s decision to pursue a nuclear capability will primarily depend on Iran’s ability to successfully complete its nuclear program. There is a strong potential for Iran to share nuclear technology with the Syrians and for Syria to exploit its close military relationship with Russia to begin to develop such a capability. Should Iran succeed in securing its claim as a nuclear power, there is a strong chance that Syria could begin development of an indigenous nuclear program within an 8-10 year time frame with Iranian assistance.
But Syria faces considerably greater constraints in developing a nuclear program than Iran. Israel keeps a close eye on the Syrian regime and is better equipped to take military action against Syria given its proximity. Though Syria relies on Hezbollah to counter Israeli aggression, the group is not a sole proxy to the Syrian regime and is unlikely to face its own destruction to protect Syrian interests.
Though Syria has an interest in regaining the regional influence it once had under the late Syrian President Hafez al Assad, it will take extreme caution in pursuing a nuclear capability. The Syrian-Iranian alliance appears strong from the outset, but Syria will look after its own interests first. Iran knows it cannot completely rely on Syria to wage attacks in the event of a US/Israeli strike on Iran. At the same time, the Syrian government knows Iran is unlikely to directly defend the Syrians in event of an attack on Syria. Should Israel change its course and decide to pursue a negotiated settlement with Syria as it did with Jordan and Egypt to return the Golan Heights and seriously pursue peace talks, the Syrian government could end up distancing itself from Iran in exchange for security guarantees from the United States and Israel. In the end, the Iranians know Syria’s loyalties are flexible and that the al Assad regime cannot be genuinely trusted. It is this weakness in the relationship that the United States could potentially exploit to wean Syria away from the Iranian orbit and thus decrease the likelihood that Syria would make a decision to seriously pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
Israel is extremely distrustful of the al Assad regime and is unlikely to pursue a peace settlement unless it received solid guarantees that Syria would end its support for anti-Israeli militant assets in the region. Similarly, Syria does not trust that the Israelis will make good on their promises and thus has an interest in preserving its militant proxies. This atmosphere of distrust on both sides makes a Syrian-Israeli peace settlement unlikely in the near future. If Iran succeeds in establishing itself as a regional nuclear power and the United States and Israel continue a policy of isolating the Syrian regime, the probability of Syria more aggressively pursuing WMD capability will rise.
A number of scenarios should be considered in determining Syria’s propensity to deploy chemical weapons:
Israel threatens the survival of the Syrian regime with attacks
Lacking any good opposition alternatives, Israel currently prefers to keep the al Assad regime intact. Syria is more than a nuisance for the Israelis, but is viewed as more of a manageable threat than other pressing concerns in the regions, including Iran, Hezbollah, the Palestinian militant groups and the weakened U.S. position in Iraq. However, should Iran manage to consolidate its gains in Iraq and become a member of the nuclear club, Israel will put its efforts into making sure Syria doesn’t become a larger WMD threat. If Israel takes military action against Syria that runs a serious risk of toppling the al Assad regime, there is a high probability that the Syrian military would employ the use of chemical weapons to counter an Israeli offensive. Syria’s defense would also be backed up with Hezbollah and Palestinian attacks against Israel.
Syria uses chemical weapons against Israel and/or supplies a non-state proxy with chemical weapons
Syria learned its lesson from its participation in the 1948, 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, and understands the military and political risk of directly engaging Israel militarily. This is what led to Syria’s preference in supporting proxy militant actors to counter Israel. Syria does not wish to invite an Israeli attack on its soil, and has taken great care to avoid getting directly involved in regional flare-ups. For this reason, it is unlikely that Syria would supply its non-state allies with chemical weapons to attack Israel. Israel would be forced to respond to a chemical attack by Hezbollah or a Syrian-supported Palestinian group with a direct attack on Syria.
3. Syria directly attacks U.S. forces in the region in an offensive strike
Syria uses a dual approach in dealing with Israel – while it maintains its non-state militant assets, it also keeps the window open for back-channel negotiations. Syria has used the same strategy in dealing with the United States. The arrival of U.S. forces across the Syrian-Iraqi border presented a threat and opportunity for Damascus – a threat in the sense that U.S. forces, if given the bandwidth, could use their position in Iraq to cross into Syria and threaten the regime; an opportunity in the sense that Syria could potentially bring the United States to the negotiating table once it recognized Syria as an integral player of the region with the influence to restore order in Iraq. Syria demonstrated its direct involvement in the security situation in Iraq by facilitating the movement of insurgents across the Syrian border in to Iraq. In addition to keeping the US too occupied to think about Syrian regime change, this allowed Syria to give the Americans a reason to negotiate with the al Assad government. Just as Syria is careful to avoid becoming militarily engaged with Israel, it will take even greater precaution to avoid U.S. military action. For this reason, it is highly unlikely that Syria would directly target U.S. forces in the region or supply groups with chemical weapons to target U.S. forces in the region in the interest of preserving the regime and keeping the door open for negotiations down the road.
Israel and/or the US launches preventive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities
Though Syria has increasingly relied on Iran as its main strategic ally, it will not necessarily act on behalf of Iranian interests if the stakes are too high. Should Israel and/or the US launch an air offensive to cripple Iran’s nuclear capability, Syria will avoid inviting air strikes on its own soil and is more likely to rely on the support of its non-state allies to launch attacks on Israel. Syria and Iran may be close allies, but the Syrian regime knows Iran would be unlikely to directly act in defense of Syria if the al Assad regime were threatened. Both Syria and Iran will rely on the use of proxy groups to defend each other.
The al Assad regime falls
Should Syria make a serious miscalculation and the al Assad regime lose its grip over the government, the country will undergo a great deal of instability, and will likely return to its coup-ridden history. The prevention of a viable opposition force to develop in the country severely limits the ability of a new government to exert influence over the long-standing military and security establishment. Moreover, any Western-inserted Syrian leader is unlikely to earn the backing of the military and the Syrian public at large. Opening the country up to free elections runs the risk of creating a strong Islamist presence in the government, which could use less restraint in employing the country’s military assets. A deteriorating security situation caused by the fall of the regime could also allow militant Islamist elements to take root in the country. The instability that would ensue would delay any Syrian effort to develop a nuclear capability.