Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Striking at the Heart of Assad's Regime

Fighting has intensified in and around Damascus over the past couple of days, but today's news is breathtaking in its consequences. A suicide bomber, who apparently was a bodyguard, blew up at a meeting of high ranking security officials.

Bashar al-Assad's brother in law and defense minister were killed in the blast. At the same time several reports indicate that more generals have defected.
The assassinations were the first of such high-ranking members of the power elite in the 17-month revolt against Mr. Assad’s rule, and could represent a turning point in the conflict, analysts said, confirming that opposition forces have been marshaling their strength to strike at the close-knit centers of state power.

According to state television, the dead included the defense minister, Daoud Rajha, and Asef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military. But the television report rejected claims by activists that the minister of the interior also was killed, saying he remained alive and in stable condition.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said all the members of the crisis group set up by President Assad to try to put down the revolt were are either dead or injured. But there was no official confirmation of that account.

With tensions already high in Damascus after three days of clashes between the Syrian Army and rebels near the city center, SANA, the official news agency, described the assault as a “suicide terrorist attack.” Opponents claimed a major victory.

“The Syrian regime has started to collapse,” said the activist who heads the Syrian Observatory. “There was fighting for three days inside Damascus, it was not just a gun battle, and now someone has killed or injured all these important people.”
The Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility and that they were able to infiltrate the ministry building shows that the opposition has managed to infiltrate the regime and its security measures.

It's premature to call this the beginning of the end of Assad's regime, but it's the beginning of the next phase in the ongoing civil war. Considering that those involved plotting in the brutal crackdown were among those killed, it's going to be interesting to see the strategy that Assad uses going forward. Considering how ignorant Assad is of the plight of his countrymen, I fully expect him to further intensify the crackdown and brutalization of the Syrian people.

We're already seeing that there is widespread shelling of civilian areas, as BBC reports.

The more that he uses violence, the more the country realizes that Assad has got to go. We're already seeing some of those dividends as more military leaders defect rather than stay and fight against their fellow countrymen.

The British Foreign Secretary, in condemning the bombing that took out Assad's defense ministers, also used it as an opportunity to again assert that the UN needs to act under Chapter VII (using force) to solve the crisis there.

Russia continues blocking UN Chapter VII-type actions, but it's again reiterating that it will not prop up Assad. That's rather duplicitous of them, considering that Assad is being propped up by Russia by their stubborn refusal to offer up Assad a golden parachute to exile that avoids the ignominious end that met the likes of Mumar Khadafi.

I don't have a crystal ball about what will happen, but it might be instructive to look at Yemen's civil war/insurrection for guidance. There, Ali Abdullah Saleh was hit in a bombing and forced to leave the country for medical treatment but he and his regime never broke and he was able to return. The endgame there was that on January 22, 2012, the Yemeni parliament passed a law that granted Saleh immunity from being prosecuted and he left Yemen for treatment in the United States. Saleh stepped down and formally ceded power to his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi and Al-Hadi will be a caretaker for the government as a new constitution is drafted and new elections are scheduled for 2014. However, the security situation there remains dire as the government is locked in a battle with al Qaeda.

Video is streaming showing fighting on the streets in Damascus despite propaganda video shown by Assad's media outlets attempting to show calm:

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