With reports of increasing defections in the army and of clashes between different army units in Deraa, the question of who will be first to crack, the protest movement or the Assad regime, is now at play.
In the morning of April 25, the city of Deraa was invaded from all four corners by units affiliated with the 4th Division, which falls under the direct leadership of Maher Al-Assad, the 5th Division, led by Muhammad Saleh Al-Rifai, with reinforcement from the 132 Battalion. Shortly thereafter, reports began trickling then pouring in speaking of a mutiny in the units affiliated with 5th Division and troops from these units standing up to and halting the advance of units from the 4th Division trying to reach Al-Omary Mosque in central Deraa. At first, many of us thought this might be a reference to a few more defections, as had transpired two weeks ago, but the reports continue to come from different sources and eyewitnesses that we managed to reach all through the day, leading us to believe that there might indeed be something worth monitoring here.
If such a mutiny has indeed taken place so early in the game, then Assad’s military Gambit seems to be backfiring, a development that could spark a wider division within the army in the next few hours and days, with all different sorts of implications for the protest movement, depending on how this internal conflict plays out.
If, on the other hand, the reports turn out to be nothing more than exaggerations and wishful thinking, then the protest movement will still have a way to go before producing a significant impact on the structure and power base of the regime, and the challenge will be to keep on message and peaceful all the way through despite the mounting violence on part of the Assads.
It’s important to note at this stage, however, the sheer falsehood of the regime allegations of widespread violence on part of the protesters and Salafist designs. The videos we have clearly show protesters facing tanks with rocks not guns. Had Salafists really been present in the city and planning to establish an independent Islamic Emirate, why didn’t they do so in three weeks of peace they had, and do they disappear all of a sudden, with their alleged caches of weapons, each time the army and security forces show up? One potential answer is that regime is dealing here about Salafist infiltrators trained by an undead Harry Houdini, or armed with Klingon cloaking devices. The other answer, and pardon me for finding it more likely, is that regime officials is lying just like their counterparts in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.
Be that as it may, despite the violent crackdown in Deraa and the reported two dozen deaths there, not to mention, and the incursions by security forces into the coastal city of Jableh and the suburbs of Mouaddamiyyah, Douma and Barzeh in Damascus, the fatalities that were reported there, and the hundreds of arrests, protesters still managed to organize sizeable demonstration in Homs, Darayyah and Al-Tal, etc.
The protesters are a very determined lot, and might just prove to be a tougher nut to crack than the regime.