Time is not on Assad's side |
Arab News - 31 August, 2012
With his country in flames, more than 20,000 new graves filled in the last 18 months and around two and a half million of his people fled their homes, Syria’s Bashar Assad told a loyalist TV station in Damascus that his regime “just needs more time” to defeat the insurrection.
That the dictator, whose troops and ruthless militias are bleeding his own country dry, should still be in such a state of denial, about the reality of the opposition rebellion he is facing, is breathtaking. There is now hardly a single part of the country where the government writ is certain, and large areas which are entirely in the control of the opposition. Loyalist forces have discovered to their bitter and bloody cost, that so deep are the roots of the rebellion, that even when they use their greater armament and firepower to sweep through a rebel-held region, the insurgents spring up behind them.
Assad and his regime simply do not have enough manpower to be everywhere. The old instruments of suppression, the police, the ubiquitous mukhabarat and the large networks of informers have largely been destroyed. With them has gone the fear that kept ordinary Syrians in line. For sure they dread the fighting fronts moving to their towns and villages. They are horrified to contemplate the militia-led massacres with which Assad’s forces mark their passing, but such is their anger and hatred toward the regime, that the risks seem to many to be worth it. Besides, there is now a well-developed early warning system. It is much harder for the regime’s forces to swoop on an unsuspecting community and carry out their usual carnage.
This has become a war of attrition. And whatever Assad may have deluded himself into believing, time for his government, is now at a premium. His soldiers continue to desert. Those that stay loyal, are taking a steady toll of dead and injured. Before the opposition rebellion, the regime had a regular army of some 220,000 regulars with some 300,000 reservists. Defections from the ranks may not have been as high as some opposition activists have claimed. However, it is clear that key elements of the Free Syrian Army now contain experienced and well trained troops and officers, who understand the tactics and weaponry with which the rebel fighters are faced. Military analysts are asking how much longer an increasingly beleaguered military, however well-disciplined and armed, can endure the day-in-day-out fighting and the increasing uncertainty that anywhere is safe for them. When the conflict moved to Aleppo and Latakia, in the traditional heartland of the Assad family, it must have become clear to all but the most fanatical loyalist soldiers, that the writing was on the wall for the regime. Their defeat was only a question of time.
Besides their own exhaustion, their weaponry is likely to be wearing out. Artillery cannot fire for ever on civilian areas without replacement barrels and other components. Tanks and armored personnel vehicles need servicing. However good the logistical back up for Assad’s soldiers, his whole military machine, even with regular new supplies from the ever-obliging Kremlin, is beginning to crumble. Moreover, with the economy ground to a halt, the regime must be running out of cash with which to pay its soldiers, who most of them probably have families to feed. The blood-thirsty militias may be prepared to do their butchery for free, but in the end the Assad regime needs money. Maybe Iran, which has been reported to be considering sending Revolutionary Guards to bolster the loyalist forces, is funneling cash to Damascus. But Iran itself is in financial trouble and has not a deep enough pocket book to fund Assad’s war on his own people. Therefore time is not what Assad has at his disposal. For the rebels however, with a ready store of volunteers and financial support and weaponry, strategically there is no hurry. Tactically, everyone in the opposition wants bloodshed to end as soon as possible. However that will only happen when the rebels take Damascus and the Assad regime falls. The dictator can no more crush the uprising than he can a pillow.
However as long as he believes that it is only a question of time that will ensure his regime’s survival, Syria’s grave diggers will be kept busy while the hatred of his people and the contempt that the outside world feels for his savagery, will only deepen.