The news around Syria these days revolves around countries using angrier tones against Assad, Turkey amassing troops along the border, and top Syrian military leaders defecting. All of the developments, combined together have so far done absolutely nothing to Assad’s grip. The facts on the ground are that Assad is still in control of the government’s most powerful bodies, most notably the military, and by extension of Syria.
Assad is a man who grew up watching his father, exterminate entire rebellions without word ever reaching the outside world. With the advent of the internet, this is no longer possible, but Assad still behaves as if it is. The reason he does this is because he knows the chances of a foreign military intervention is unlikely. This isn’t some pariah state like Libya where it mattered to no one if the government was toppled, or like Tunisia where the monarchy could be evacuated in a single day and the system destroyed. With Syria there seems to be the complexities of Libya but this time the regime has international backing. So far China and Russia have successfully vetoed any bill that would entail military intervention. This time NATO doesn’t seem likely to intervene either because of the upcoming U.S elections. Even so the Free Syria Army is receiving a lot of help. Qatar’s president has even hinted, and we use the term lightly, at a military intervention without the Security Council. Turkey has been pushing for harder steps against its neighbour, but for the moment it seems that everyone is too busy squabbling
The resistance will not last with a military intervention. Reiterating, Assad is still the most powerful military force in Syria by a mile, and he has no qualms using indiscriminate force. This should be more than evident to everyone by now. Assuming, with good reason, that such an intervention will not be possible until the U.S elections this year, it may not be wrong to assume that the U.S may hammer out a diplomatic solution yet. Assad will be important to this. Russia is very keen on protecting its interests in Syria and it is unlikely to balk. The resulting deal would be Assad with fewer powers. However it seems that such a deal will never be accepted by the rebelling forces for two main reasons.
The first is Assad’s excesses in his counter-revolution. He has repeatedly and with obvious determination attacked civilian centres with heavy weapons with reckless regard for innocent life. As mentioned before, mass media is an important feature of this revolution. Because of this, Assad’s excesses have been seen all around Syria on computer screens.
Secondly, the Free Syrian Army which seems like one monolithic unit because of the name is actually various independent resistance movements adopting the same slogan. They have no unified command structure, and at this point have the most basic military training. The defections of Assad’s generals have not strengthened their ranks without significantly weakening Assad’s, but it has given them a morale boost.
Al Qaeda style tactics have added a more sinister undertone to the uprising. The suicide attack in Damascus that killed two dozen civilians was tracked to Ayman Zawahiri’s call for holy warriors to fight against Assad. Panetta said that while US has intelligence that Al Qaeda is involved to an extent, their activities are off the radar. It is argued that the failure of the west to come to Syria’s aid created the chasm that militants stepped in to fill. What with Al Qaeda’s historic interest in securing Levant, Free Syrian Army’s protests that they have nothing to do with terrorist organizations don’t sound very convincing.
“From their point of view, the battle going on in Syria is against defenceless Sunnis, that no one is helping them,” said Elliott Abrams, a senior national security advisor to President George W. Bush and staunch advocate of more decisive action in the Middle East to contain Iran and Shiite militias. While the key indicators of their presence would be the increasingly sophisticated attacks on government sites and buildings, what’s also possible is that after 16 months of fighting the rebels just got better.
Fact of the matter is Syria is no Egypt. The piece de resistance in the scenario being an Allawite’s monopoly over force targeted towards a largely Sunni majority of untrained civilians with meagre weapons; and yet there is no turning back for the Free Syrian Army. A political solution might be possible if defecting generals and Assad are brought to the table to negotiate a settlement underwritten by Russia and Turkey. In an ideal world, UN would have already stepped in to conduct a nationwide referendum and settled the matter in a democratic fashion. As it is Assad will be hard to oust completely without military intervention and the Free Syrian Army needs to come to terms with it and be open to the idea of a peaceful settlement. Cries of viva la resistance sound more like a hollow echo with every passing day.