As rebels make inroads, their ‘Friends of Syria’ are nervous

Tony Karon writes: As western and Arab governments prepare to meet in Marrakech today under the “Friends of Syria” rubric, the US is scrambling to adapt its Syria policy to an increasingly complex reality that is changing rapidly, largely beyond western influence.

Last week’s flurry of conflicting reports suggesting President Bashar Al Assad might be preparing to use chemical weapons may have been more a sign of agitation in Washington than of suicidal thoughts in Damascus. The regime has long been aware that using chemical weapons would prompt western powers to unleash air strikes. Israeli analysts have suggested that the greatest danger was not the use of chemical weapons, but that advancing rebels might seize them. Any activity around weapons depots may have been a result of munitions being moved for safekeeping.

Still, it seemed as if someone in Washington was trying to get the urgent attention of policymakers by sounding doomsday alarms. Rebel forces certainly made astonishing gains during the past month – they’ve overrun key outlying regime military bases; downed regime aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles; moved closer to cutting off the Assad garrison in Aleppo and launched a sustained operation in the suburbs of Damascus.

The regime’s strategists may be acknowledging that it can no longer rule all of Syria, and must instead contract its domain, fighting to hold on to key routes and cities, but accepting that recapturing the swathes of territory in the north, east and south held by rebels is beyond the manpower of the regime’s reliable (predominantly Alawite) security forces.

If so, the regime’s security core may see its best hopes for survival in the “Lebanonisation” of Syria – a scenario, already under way, in which the central state effectively collapses, and power is carved up among local and regional sectarian militias defending their own turf in a long-term war of all against all. The regime has already ceded territory along the Turkish border to Kurdish militias that have no intention of bending the knee to Damascus, regardless of who rules there. [Continue reading…]

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