Knocking at Damascus' door |
Asharq Al-Awsat - 25 July, 2012
Author: Abdullah Al-Otaibi
The fierce struggle in Syria recently experienced a blazing hot week in which the regime greatly aggravated the situation before the Free Syrian Army (FSA) promptly took the lead and suddenly managed to move the battle to the heart of the capital Damascus and its districts. The FSA approached the recent clashes strongly, and in some locations it was able to take the initiative by attacking security headquarters and forcing the regime’s troops to retreat and defend themselves. Hence in some Damascus districts, the FSA has been able to impose its own rule.
Furthermore, the FSA also launched its biggest qualitative operation since the eruption of the revolution, in terms of its skilled planning, flawless implementation and the difficulty of infiltrating the intended target - the headquarters of the National Security Bureau - where the regime’s leadership was meeting in a heavily guarded area. The operation was also of great symbolic significance, since senior leaders of both the army and the security apparatus were killed.
The identities of those killed give the event even greater momentum and significance. They were: Dawoud Rajha, the Minister of Defense, Deputy Commander of al-Assad's army, and Deputy Prime Minister, Major General Assef Shawkat, the Deputy Chief of Staff and Bashar's brother-in-law, Hassan Turkmani, the Crisis Management Chief, and Mohammad Shaar, the Minister of Interior (if news of his death is indeed correct). Furthermore, the FSA also carried out bombings targeting Maher al-Assad’s Forth Division, the strongest and the fiercest Syrian military entity, and leaked unconfirmed news reports claimed that Maher himself was injured.
Bashar al-Assad is still hiding. He failed to address his troops following the deaths of their leaders, and only briefly appeared to appoint his new Minister of Defense. The FSA's successful operations have confused al-Assad's army, and so dozens of troops have begun to defect across a number of Syrian cities. I believe that al-Assad, having already recalled some troops from the Golan Heights - where the Syrian army has failed to fire a single bullet in 40 years - to point their guns and tanks towards the Syrian people in Damascus, will also call in other troops deployed across Syria in order to protect the capital city. The FSA must then seek to block all routes to the capital and intensify its operations there, in order to force what remains of al-Assad's crumbling army to either defect or surrender.
Instigating civil disobedience, crippling airports, and targeting security headquarters and arms warehouses can all help the FSA, particularly as some new defectors are in possession of heavy weaponry such as tanks and artillery that can be used to decisively end the war.
As usual, in view of such dramatic transformations, some people are worried and suspicious. Conspiracy theories are also circulated, but these can be discounted. This is because the regime would never venture to cut off its nose by exterminating its leadership, for it is aware that this would affect the morale of its army, an army now sustaining heavy losses. Indeed, the regime’s officers and soldiers are currently being subjected to a siege whereby they are not allowed to leave their headquarters or even speak to the media.
Anyone who observes al-Assad's conduct must know that he will do anything within his reach to stop the tide. Some Western news agencies reported that al-Assad is now moving chemical weapons in his possession, according to spokesmen of the FSA in Turkey. This sounds as if the besieged al-Assad is seeking to create another Halabja, but this time in Damascus along the lines of the Sampson Option.
Such qualitative operations, large-scale defections and the changing equation on the ground will force world powers to reconsider their stances and adopt a more positive and practical attitude to champion the Syrian people against al-Assad's wild killing machine. If the regime had the opportunity now, it would re-operate its killing machine in a manner fiercer than before, but this time with the additional motive of taking revenge and restoring its lost prestige.
At long last, good news has started to filter through from Damascus, and this marks a good start for the decisive battle taking place there. There is now a sense of optimism and the Syrian people alone can decide whether this sense will prevail. This, however, is conditional upon the FSA persisting with its operations all over Syrian territory and instigating civil disobedience in all governorates.
The Gaddafi regime in Libya collapsed abruptly as a result of the strategic operations near Bab al-Aziziyah after the rebels had entered Tripoli, and this is something that the FSA must imitate in Damascus. Of course, there is a big difference between the two cases: the Libyan operation was carried out thanks to strong NATO intervention, whereas the FSA relies primarily on its own capabilities and the overwhelming popular support it receives.
Ever since the start of the crisis, al-Assad adopted the security and military option and relied on Russian protection internationally, unlimited support from Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah, and also on the military potential of his army that persisted in killing unarmed people. However, the people promptly created their own self-defense through the FSA. Since Bashar al-Assad closed all the doors for a political solution from the outset, now he will certainly adopt a stance based on intransigence rather than logic, continuing with his security and military solution despite the major changes on the ground, or else he will flee the country.
The al-Assad regime cannot be compared to any other regime, as Gaddafi never had a genuinely powerful army with which he could kill his own people, despite all the other atrocities associated with his reign. The Al-Assad regime also cannot be compared to the old apartheid system in South Africa, as even though Syria is based on sectarian principles equal to the former racist model of South Africa, al-Assad is even wilder in his bloodshed, violence, and blind tyranny.
Getting rid of al-Assad and his regime will not be easy, but today it seems that gambling on the Syrian people was the right thing to do. The Syrian people reacted strongly to the situation that the regime forcefully tried to impose upon them, and they intensified their rejection by moving from peaceful protests to forming a free army that has undertaken various operations to protect civilians and target the regime’s army. The Syrian people seized every single opportunity to express their stances explicitly and clearly. When Mustafa al-Dabi [head of an Arab League observer mission] came in, the people did not react, and similarly when Kofi Annan came in, the people remained resolute. When the balance of international power tilted against the Syrian people, they imposed their own will on the ground.
A final indicator that the Syrian regime is on the verge of collapse can be seen in the rhetoric of Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar al¬-Assad’s ally, who bemoaned the recent loss of his comrades in arms, even though they have persisted in killing Syrian civilians. Nasrallah seemed sad and frustrated, and all his false slogans of resistance were exposed, even though they once deceived numerous Arab intellectuals. As Nasrallah flounders and Iran is being stifled economically, al-Assad is searching for a way to flee the country.