At this stage, and considering the growing though under-reported, problems he is having with members of his own Alawite sect, Assad seems to be acting more on behalf of Iranian and Russian overlords than out of loyalty to any indigenous agenda. The mercenary nature of his regime has never been so obvious.
Some Middle East analysts see a potential tinderbox. “The situation is very volatile, very dangerous and has the potential to escalate into all-out war,” warned Professor Fawaz Gerges from the London School of Economics.
What could happen if the rebels get the shoulder-held rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weapons they want?
One likely scenario, say some Middle East experts, is that the Kremlin will loosen its own under-reported restrictions and sell the Syrian government – which Russia considers a “client state” – the high-tech weapons that Assad has been clamoring for.
If that were to happen, some say it has the potential to unleash an arms race – and an all-out war – on Turkey’s doorstep.
In that case, Gerges believes, just one mistake, one miscalculation, could trigger a regional war - or worse.
“If Turkey, a NATO member, is fed up and invades Syria, NATO would have no choice but to intervene in Syria. And you can bet that Iran would become involved, and this could quickly turn into a region-wide conflict between Turkey, NATO, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the one hand, and Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah and Syria on the other.”
Luckily, this nightmare scenario can be avoided. In fact, both Russia and NATO (read: the U.S.) are using their considerable influence over Syria and Turkey, respectively, to keep tempers in check.
But Turkey is already bristling with almost 100,000 hungry Syrian refugees in camps on its border. And Assad is well aware that Turkey is largely spearheading the rebels’ fight against his regime, supplying their weapons and hosting the military wing of the opposition.
If a Syrian warplane were taken down by well-armed rebels and crashed into a Turkish village on the border, killing dozens, the incident could be the match that ignites a conflagration.
“You have the potential not only for a region-wide war, but also for international conflict as well,” said Gerges.
The main problem here is that, even without adopting a policy of arming the rebels, we are already facing the prospect of a regional and/or international conflict. A policy of keeping “tempers in check” is not sufficient to resolve the crisis.
Assad is not a legitimate actor, but no one has so far emerged on the scene that can be considered as a legitimate representative of the aspirations and concerns of the Alawite and other confessional minorities in Syria. The international community is doing very little to help Syrian opposition get their act together, while regional powers are busy arming different rebel groups without any political vision for the future. As for Assad, he has become nothing more than a glorified mercenary defending Iranian and Russian interests. How can this situation not be conducive to wider conflict?
Every reason that has been proffered to justify inaction on Syria from the beginning of the revolution to date has contributed to producing the very nightmarish scenario that early intervention could have prevented.
The answer according to Mark LeVine, professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine is obviously: no. Duh.
The strange thing about this essay is that Professor LeVine starts by admitting that rebels had “an inchoate leadership and no real plan forward.” Then he asserts that, because of this, rebels “should have stuck to non-violence.” Whom is he addressing here? If the protest movement itself, by his own admission, was and remains fractured and there was no centralized decision-making process, who could have made the decision either way?
From the very beginning the revolutionary process was driven by activists on the ground, acting locally, with little networking nationally, no political vision for the future and no political skills. Meanwhile traditional opposition groups were not ready or able to fill that role. Add to the mix, the nature of the Assad regime in terms of the family dynamics involved, the communal dynamics involved, the ideological predilections, and the regional and international alliances that the Assads are involved in, and the transformation of the showdown with protesters become a much more complex phenomenon than what rebels and activists did or did not do.
In a sense, the crux of Assad’s strategy in the beginning was more about defeating the nonviolent ethos, as a necessary step towards defeating the revolution itself. As such he did everything he could to draw blood even if from a tiny segment of local populations in order to justify an even greater use of violence on part of the loyalist militias. To my knowledge, none of the nonviolent revolutions elsewhere have had to contend with this kind of strategy deployed with such impunity, persistence and on the scale that we witnessed in Syria. Moreover, in implementing his strategy, Assad has zealous regional and international backers. Activists, meanwhile, had only verbal support from the international community coupled with sanctions that had a negative impact on them as well and not only the Assads. Instead of drawing clear redlines on the use of violence and showing willingness to impose them, world leaders rushed to rule out any sort of intervention, in effect giving Assad and his backers free reign to pursue their strategy.
In time, faced with the willingness of pro-Assad militias to perpetrate massacres against unarmed civilians, and to do it and lie about it with impunity, going to lengths to stage the scene by planting weapons on the corpses of the victims, bussing supporters from loyalist communities to cleansed protest hubs in order to be interviewed by official media and toe the regime’s line on what took place, and orchestrating car bombings local communities had little choice but to resort to self-defense.
But nonviolent activists persisted in their ways. Armed activities in local communities appeared as parallel course that imposed itself on the scene gradually taking the lead.
Different communities and different groups in each community made their decision in this regard individually and at different times as warranted by local circumstances. Just as the case with nonviolent protest was, the armed option was adopted in a haphazard manner.
Supported by local civilian recruits, armed defectors first emerged as protectors of peaceful nonviolent rallies, but as violence by pro-Assad militias increased, they turned into a more proactive defensive role of their communities and neighborhoods, a process that eventually metamorphosed into an armed insurrection. Certain ideological groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbul Tahrir and Salafist groups, backed by Gulf-based supporters, led and fed this trend. Nonviolence activists, the overwhelming majority of whom were (and remain) pragmatists, moderates and secularists (liberals and leftists) had limited choice in the matter. Once the slide towards militarization began, nonviolence had little choice in the matter and had to cooperate by dedicating themselves to media activities and local governance issues.
Due to the gradual nature of the process, world leaders had ample opportunity and warning to do something to prevent the continued devolution, but they did nothing. Protesters in Syria were given little choice, and were, in fact, betrayed. What went wrong in Syria is more a product of the failure of the international decision-making process than the choices forced on the revolutionaries.
Nighttime clashes in Naher Eisheh, Damascus City http://youtu.be/b9VMUNjz86s , http://youtu.be/U5w2Tv6R7hY
The pounding of the town of Zabadani, Homs Province, continues http://youtu.be/3K0DuGs8DaQ , http://youtu.be/o6aOIgNV3FQ
MIGs pound the town of Anadan, Aleppo Province http://youtu.be/s45se94NOeA Leaving scores of dead http://youtu.be/iNYJtt5CiYs , http://youtu.be/ordhkc6k4ZM
A massacre in Ma’arrat Al-Nouman, Idlib Province http://youtu.be/AaezGaOxuR0
The pounding of neighborhoods in Homs City continues: Hamidiyeh http://youtu.be/GhGz0BVTP_c Khaldiyeh http://youtu.be/0oORq19UHTM
The pounding of the town of Rastan continues http://youtu.be/q_T-Qd_CNu0 , http://youtu.be/lBG9r1LL9is