June 29, 2012 ·2 Comments
Bashar al-Assad denied reports that Iranian forces were operating alongside his own. Photo: EPA
BASHAR al-Assad’s time is running out.
SYDNEY — As the crisis escalates, the Syrian President’s problems and enemies grow by the day.
Reports suggest that in the capital Damascus, there’s a sense these could be the last days of the regime. “The rebels are now a force in Damascus,” says Jerusalem-based analyst Jonathan Spyer, who recently spent time in Syria.
“There’s a growing sense of insecurity. I’m hearing from contacts in Damascus that people are leaving the country or moving their families and money out.”
Spyer says that while Assad’s supporters had believed the regime could handle the crisis, that is changing. “Even the language of the regime has changed,” he says.
“For months they said it was a law and order problem. Now Assad is saying it is a war.”
For other dictators such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, the pattern involved firstly protests in country areas and finally the rebels storming the capital.
Having taken control of various parts of Syria, particularly in the north, rebels are trying to move into Damascus.
It is difficult for Assad to bomb suburbs in the capital as he has done to Homs and Deraa.
Despite defections from the army, Assad still has significant firepower – his fellow Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam, continue to be his major force against the majority Sunni population.
The army’s commanders, who are mainly Alawite, remain loyal to the regime as are the Shabiha, the militia of up to 70,000 working with the army.
“What is absolutely clear is that the trend is it is Sunnis who are defecting from the army,” Spyer says.
“It is the Alawite-led and Alawite-trained units such as the Republican Guard whom the regime is relying on.”
But Spyer says the rebels have their own problems – there are an estimated 100 different military groupings around the country. “They also have a problem with jihadists coming in from Iraq,” he says.
Syria’s shooting down last week of a Turkish military jet – whose two pilots are presumed dead – has further alienated Assad from Turkey.
Ankara’s support for Syria’s rebels, the Free Syrian Army, has been discreet. Now Turkey, NATO’s second-largest military, has lost all patience with Assad.
His list of enemies is now formidable. The New York Times recently reported that the CIA was now involved in covert operations to bring down Assad, working in southern Turkey to help decide who was provided with weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
One of the reasons the CIA was doing this, the report said, was to try to make sure the weapons went to opposition fighters rather than al-Qa’ida elements.
I saw Turkey’s “blind eye” approach to the FSA in March when I crossed from Turkey to visit an FSA camp in Syria.
The FSA had set themselves up in the shadows of two Turkish military towers on the border – just on the Syrian side.
This gave Turkey plausible deniability. The FSA were not on their soil but clearly the location made it difficult for the Syrian army to attack.
While Syria has lost Turkey as a supporter, it still has two influential friends – Iran, which much prefers Assad’s Shia-dominated regime to any force made up of Syria’s Sunni majority – and Russia, which sells weapons to Syria and wants to keep its naval base there.
Assad yesterday gave an interview to a friendly television station from Iran.
“Foreign pressure won’t influence our stance,” he said.
“The real issue is maintaining national unity in the country.”
Fighting words, but they might not be enough to ensure Bashar al-Assad’s survival.
June 29, 2012Follow @somalilandpress
By Hassan Ali