Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Syrian Crackdown Against Opposition Continues

Syria's harsh crackdown has led to increased calls for sanctions, but Assad's regime isn't stopping its use of tanks and an iron fist to crush its opponents:

Despite Assad continuing to hold on to power, media outlets are beginning to contemplate what Syria and the region might look like after Assad is gone. A Reuters analysis borders on the ludicrous, especially when it relates to Hizbullah's concerns about life in Syria without Assad. Nowhere does it indicate that Hizbullah could actually benefit from the regime change by assuming power in the ensuing power vacuum. Iran most certainly would use its proxy to Iran's advantage, and it would give Hizbullah freer reign to go after Israel from both Lebanon and Syria. Iran would attempt to capitalize and choose a successor to Assad that fits its agenda and thwarts Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia or Egypt from bringing about a regime more favorable to their worldview (political and religious).

The most likely successor to Assad will come out of the military - as is usually the case when regimes are brought down - and will use his military connections to assume the leadership.

Israel is clearly concerned about the situation in Syria although the security situation wont immediately change regardless who is in power. If a more moderate government assumes power after Assad, it could lead to a thawing of the decades long struggle over handing over the Golan but much more likely is a continuation of the status quo. Hizbullah coming to power in Damascus would be a much more dangerous outcome, but one that Israel would be more prepared to deal with.

For the Lebanese, the end of the Assad regime could mean the end of Syrian meddling in Lebanese political affairs, which has included assassinations and invasion. To suggest that unrest in Syria could spill over into Lebanon is not unwarranted, but it would pose special challenges for the likes of Hizbullah, who receives backing from Iran and Syria. It would also pose a challenge for the Alawite populations in both countries, since they are a minority among Muslims. Sectarian differences have turned into open bloodshed several times before in Lebanon, and fighting could once again erupt over Assad's demise.

Assad is sending more tanks into the city of Deraa (Daraa) where the opposition has demonstrated almost constantly for several weeks and where fighting has been most intense:

House to house fighting has also been reported north of Damascus as the regime attempts to flush out opposition groups and eliminate the existential threat to the ongoing regime. Brutal crackdowns are the norm in Syria, and Bashar is simply following the dictum of his father - to use brutal power to neutralize domestic enemies all while claiming that these opposition groups are merely front groups for the US or Israel.

Perhaps most important is the reporting that dissension within the military may be occurring:
Yet even as the relentless crackdown moved forward, signs continued to emerge of disagreements and clashes between the regime and those who once supported it without question.

Some 30 members of the ruling Ba'ath party from Banias announced their resignation in a letter denouncing what they describe as live firing on people and pervasive home raids in their city, according to an emailed copy of the letter.

"Considering the breakdown of values and emblems that we were instilled with by the party and which were destroyed at the hand of the security forces…we announce our withdrawal from the party without regret," the letter said.

The Ba'ath Party has been a pillar of the regime for decades and seen almost no internal dissent. Meanwhile reports of clashes within army units and significant troop casualties.

Activists said they have also received some reports, which were impossible to confirm, of clashes between the regular military and elite fighting divisions controlled by Maher al Assad, the president's brother.

It remained unclear whether the reports of army casualties indicated actual fighting between the forces or disputes between elite troops and regular soldiers who refused to fire on protesters.
If this is occurring, then pressure on the regime is no doubt going to increase and we might see Assad attempt to purge the military before he becomes the target of a coup.

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