Hassan Hassan writes: What is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thinking? Over the past several weeks, his regime has escalated military operations throughout the country — shelling neighborhoods in previously loyal cities, using airplanes to drop what rebel fighters call “TNT barrels” containing hundreds of kilograms worth of explosives, and unleashing its militias to commit gruesome massacres such as the one in the city of Daraya, where more than 400 people were slaughtered on Aug. 27. Approximately 5,000 Syrians were killed in August — making it the deadliest month of the 17-month conflict.
At the same time, the Syrian regime has embarked on a PR offensive. Damascus invited the Independent‘s Robert Fisk into the country — allowing him to interview Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, embed with Syrian forces battling insurgents in Aleppo, and interview imprisoned foreign fighters and Syria jihadists. Most prominently, Assad himself granted an interview to the pro-regime Addounia TV on Aug. 29 where he insisted “Syria will return to the Syria before the crisis.”
Western and Arab media dismissed the interview as detached from reality: Assad’s comments appeared to be directed at an outside audience, and he did not offer any concessions to the opposition. But the interview merits a closer look, as it can offer insights into a recent shift in the regime’s thinking and tactics.
In the interview, Assad explained that a recent “public understanding” has allowed the regime to escalate its offensive, unlike during the early stages of the uprising. “Some wanted us to handle that stage as we handle the stage today,” he said. “This is illogical. The stage was different, their [rebels’] modus operandi was different, even the public understanding of what’s happening was different.”
There is of course no public consent as such, but some of Syria’s internal dynamics have shifted in favor of the regime. Many in Syria have made up their minds about standing with the regime until the end. Though some do not support the violence, they believe that blood is a price that has to be paid to prevent the country from lapsing into chaos. Others want a decisive end to the conflict, regardless of who delivers, and currently see the opposition as unable to tip the balance. [Continue reading…]