THE ENDGAME IN SYRIA?
"On Wednesday, an apparent suicide bomber in Damascus attacked a meeting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war cabinet, killing Daoud Rajha, Syria’s defense minister, and Asef Shawkat, who was the President’s brother-in-law. The attack was the most striking in a series of signs that Syria’s uprising has tipped into a full-blown civil war, as the Red Cross has now labelled it, with the war’s momentum now favoring the rebels. (The intelligence and access required for an attack to succeed against a crisis-cabinet meeting suggests that the rebels are running sources inside Assad’s security apparatus.) Other recent signals include sustained fighting around Damascus; the reported withdrawal of Syrian forces from the Golan Heights to combat the revolt; the spread of persistent violence to most of the country’s provinces, drawing in virtually every unit of the Syrian security services; and significant, accelerating defections of diplomats and military officers. Assad is finished. What seems left to discover is how much time will be required before he is either killed or flees; how many more Syrian civilians will die before the war turns to a struggle for post-Assad ascendancy; and how much longer the United Nations, undermined by Russia, will continue to embarrass itself by failing to craft a political transition or reduce the indiscriminate killing of Syrian civilians by state-security services. This sentiment itself is not new. For many months, it has been the blustery habit of Assad’s opponents, including those in the Obama Administration, to declare that the Syrian President’s time has come and gone. But those declarations have been mainly a form of political argument. Western governments have sought to persuade Assad that, realistically, any durable peace in Syria will require him to negotiate a departure from office, or perhaps an accommodation, such as the one that has taken place in Yemen, where the former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has left office but held onto considerable power. Now, Assad’s coming demise seems less of an argument than an observation. It looks probable that the President will take his place among the war’s victims, at the hands of a coup-maker within his ranks, or else at the hands of a rebel attack, in the manner of Muammar Qaddafi’s death at the climax of Libya’s rebellion. It is conceivable that Assad could slip into exile, perhaps to a dacha outside Moscow, where deposed Soviet clients and spies used to settle into retirement and give the occasional bitter interview to a Western correspondent back during the Cold War. In a structural, demographic, or resource sense, Assad and his fear-governed security state have always been the weaker party in the war. They represent a minority of the country’s population, the Alawite sect, with support drawn from other groups, such as the Christian community and business classes. (Rajha was a Christian.) The revolutionaries, drawn mainly from the Sunni Muslim population, draw upon the will of a demographic majority. More than a year after its start, the revolt also enjoys open and covert support from a number of very wealthy and resilient countries, including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Assad’s geopolitical support team—Iran, Russia, and an ambivalent Iraq—are not as well positioned".Steven Coll. "News Desk: Deaths in Damascus." The New Yorker. 18 July 2012, in www.newyorker.com.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps the end of the beginning."Winston S. Churchill. Mansion House Speech, 10 November 1942, speech on the occasion of the Allied victory at El-Alamein. The events this week in Damascus have shown up the indisputable fact, a fact which I in all honesty would not have predicted for quite some time to come, that the regime of Assad Fils, is perhaps on its last legs. I employ the mot, perhaps deliberately, since, while the assassinations this Wednesday of such core elements of the regimes inner sanctum, has dealt it a very hard blow, per se, what occurrred is more akin to a coup de tete, more than a coup d'etat. Meaning, that blow that the regime has taken, is more deadly to the regime's prestige and to its functioning, rather than per se akin to a military defeat. Which is not to gainsay the fact that as the Financial Times reports in to-day's edition, that portions of the borders with both Iraq and Turkey have now been seized, at least temporarily by the rebels 1. And that in addition, for a time, rebel elements seized portions of the capital itself. However, as the FT reported later on to-day, it would appear that the self-same rebel forces were withdrawing from the inner portions of the capital and that some of the border posts which were taken by the rebels are back in government hands 2. What the events of this week highlight, is that there may perhaps be a chance that the Baathist regime might, if not necessarily collapse, then fragment into a Alawite core, along the coast, and abandon the capital. Conversely, it could very well be, that the regime, could unleash completely indiscriminate warfare on the civilian population akin to what Assad pere did back in the early 1980's. Something which, so far we have not quite seen, as the regime's usage of firepower has been while grossly disproportionate, has not been on the same level as say what occured back in Hama in 1982 or what the French did circa 1925-1926 in Damascus itself. Of course, the fact that the regime's hand has been stayed is not due to any purity of motives, but simply due to the fact that the regime fears that wholesale bloodshed, will have the end result of Western military intervention. Something that the Assad regime no doubt prefers to forestall at all costs. My own, lastest, not perhaps very reliable prediction is that unless the regime were to collapse in the next few weeks or alternatively to withdraw from Damascus proper and regroup in its Alawite heartland, then the likelihood is that the regime will not, repeat not collapse and that it is more likelier than not to regain the advantage over the rebels. Assuming that is, that the West fails to overcome its unwillingness to militarily intervene in the conflict. 1. Michael Peel, Borzou Daragahi & Roula Khalaf, "Syrian rebels seize border posts as Russia nad China veto UN sanctions." The Financial Times. 20 July 2012, p.1. 2. Michel Peel & Borzou Daragahi, "Syrians flee as violence escalates." The Financial Times. 20 July 2012, in www.ft.com.