Jul 19 2012

End game in Syria?

19 July 2012
The attack on key figures of the Syrian regime has turned the mood in Damascus. Will the conflict get bloodier before it ends?

It looks eerily familiar. Bashar Al Assad's political life appears to be unravelling similar to other dictators who resisted the onset of popular revolutions in the Arab World during the past 18 months.

After months of resistance, even blood-tainted successes, the Syrian regime appears to be finally seeing the walls close around them.

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword and that was certainly true for Assad's Defence Minister Daoud Rajha and brother-in-law Assef Sahwkat who were both killed in an explosion along with another general on Wednesday. All three were part of Assad's inner circle and reportedly played key roles in the suppression of the citizenry.

The mood in Damascus appears to have changed with this major event, and the powers that be are allowing themselves to think of the Day After Assad.

Of course, this could stretch for months or end tomorrow. Russia and China, who have obstinately supported Assad during his bloody war against civilians, could well keep the regime propped up for months.

"The failure of the UN-backed Kofi Annan peace plan highlights that the Syrian regime remains determined to hold on to power through the use of force. It is clearly not interested in an externally-brokered political solution," said Torbjorn Soltvedt, Senior Analyst at Maplecroft, a day before the suicide-bombing that killed two key Assad allies.

"Similarly, there has been no support amongst opposition groups and forces for a transition which would preserve the current power structure even if President Bashar al-Assad were to step down as part of such an agreement."

However, given the degree of force employed by the regime, proposals allowing the upper echelons of the Ba'athist regime to retain representation in a new government are unlikely to materialise.

"As a result, fighting between regime forces and armed opposition groups will continue with the likelihood of massacres rising as the regime increasingly relies on heavy fire-power to suppress the insurgency," says Soltvedt.

And fighting has already escalated in Damascus, as President Assad has disappeared from public view, echoing the last days of the Libyan dictator Mohammad Gaddafi.

"This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control," said U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan, who has graciously taken in thousands of fleeing Syrian refugees, says the attack is a 'terrible blow' to the regime.

"It's getting very, very messy to a point where I think the worst-case scenario for all of us in the region is when you get full-out civil war. There is no coming back from the abyss," said the King.

The world has watched with great concern as more than 10,000 Syrian lives were lost in 16 months, as their call for political and social reforms was met with brutal force from the regime.

There is no doubt that the suicide attack has emboldened the Free Syrian Army and planted seeds of doubts within Assad's regime. The defection of senior figures from the Syrian regime also suggests that Assad's grip on power is weakening.

While the world is supporting the Free Syrian Army at the moment, they are also wary of the various disparate groups that operate within and especially those with Al-Qaeda links - but that's something they will have to confront when the Assad regime falls.

Of course, Syria has turned into a war theatre for global powers with Russia, China and Iran in one corner, and the United States, Western powers and Gulf States in the other. That global tension is only likely to escalate especially as fundamentalist groups are taking advantage of the chaos.

"Covert support for anti-regime fighters is likely to increase as disillusionment with current diplomatic efforts grows," says Maplecroft's Soltvedt. "Although Saudi Arabia and Qatar have officially denied reports that they have been supplying arms to FSA fighters, arms shipments from the Gulf, including anti-tank weapons, reportedly increased significantly in June. Western involvement is likely to be limited to support activities such as intelligence gathering, coordination, training by special forces and the supply of non-lethal equipment."

Similar Gulf support came to Libyan rebels which ultimately tipped the balance in their favour and led to the ignominious, videotaped death of Moammar Gaddafi.

In one of his many rants Gaddafi characterised warring Libyan rebels as 'rats', but was ironically himself found hiding in a hole by rebels. Bashar Al Assad has often called his enemies 'germs', prompting some Syrian rebels to chant the slogan 'Syrian germs salute Libyan rats.'

Seems like we have been here before, and, like last time, it may not end well for the man in power. © alifarabia.com 2012

© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.

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