Fire in Syria (II): The Regime’s Response
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The disarray amongst the Syrian opposition is all-pervading. The factions are at political loggerheads, trading charges of treason and incompetence. Their preoccupation with meaningless media appearances persists, amid reports of embezzlement of “the revolution’s funds.” The foreign capitals and supposed “think-tanks” that have been striving to unify the Syrian opposition meanwhile voice growing exasperation at the elusiveness of their task.
The political and media leaders who speak in the name of the opposition continue to bank on, and work towards, foreign intervention to resolve the situation decisively.
That leaves the opposition inside Syria on its own, though it too is divided. Some want a showdown come what may, as the regime cannot be changed peacefully. Others – not a majority – argue that it would be possible to arrive at an interim accommodating solution, in order to prevent Syria in its entirety from being engulfed in blood and fire.
The disarray is not confined to politics. It applies to the armed opposition factions as much as the political groupings. A significant proportion of the opposition inside Syria rejects militarization, though it decided some time ago not to condemn those who resort to taking up arms. Now these figures and groups complain that it is impossible to create a framework within which all armed groups would defer to the political authority of a single leadership – especially with the entry onto the scene of extremist groups, bringing with them a plethora of bloody experiences from Afghanistan and Pakistan, or North Africa and Iraq.
Once collectively known as the “Arab Afghans,” these groups are now referred to as the “Arab fighters” in Syria. They function in accordance with their own hierarchical structure. They copy the modus operandi which was devised by the leadership of al-Qaeda, and then became public property available to anyone who wants it. This is based on providing men who want to sacrifice themselves for goals which they believe to be pleasing to the Almighty, while supplying them with their needs by various means that are readily available the world over, especially in our region.
The actions of these groups, and the sectarian massacres they have committed in several parts of Syria, have dismayed a large section of the opposition: those who have “gone back home,” or lost confidence in the direction taken by what began as a genuine struggle to improve the political, economic, human and social condition of the country.
The opposition routinely blames all acts of violence on the regime. The regime and its agencies are not innocent. Its security forces and army commit crimes in the course of their suppression of its civilian or paramilitary opponents. Yet things have reached the point of prompting some opposition supporters to want a restoration of stability. That does not mean accepting restoration of the status quo ante. It means no longer allowing a justified popular uprising to be used to subject Syria to a process of wholesale destruction – one which also benefits powerful hardliners in the security and military elites.
As the Assad regime’s Syrian, Arab and Western enemies prepare to usher in a new stage in the bloody confrontation, the Syrian authorities have been mulling over their own plans for a comprehensive military showdown. The aim this time will not just be to prevent the creation of armed opposition concentrations or enclaves, but to “destroy all armed groups, irrespective of their nature or identity.”
This is the prevalent notion in Syrian military and security circles, according to sources in contact with them. “The rationale and motivation for launching wholesale cleansing operations are increasing by the day,” they say. “To repeat with the UN observers the free-for-all that came with the Arab observers, would only open the door to further deterioration and bloodshed.”
As seen from Damascus, the difference now is that “a hardline majority of the armed groups have come to be led by non-Syrians, and the foreign intelligence agencies that work with them act as though they’re willing to destroy everything in Syria – not just targeting the army and security forces, but all public civilian facilities on the pretext that they belong to the regime, and at the same time ratcheting up sectarian tensions through roving acts of criminality.”
Sources familiar with Damascus’ thinking do not deny the involvement of pro-regime loyalists in sectarian crimes. But they believe that it is intent on “achieving blows of the kind that would change the look of the entire scene, military, political, and popular.”
It would appear that the current focus of security activity is around Damascus, where a sweeping operation has been ordered aimed at curtailing rebel activity in the capital’s hinterland, all the way to the Lebanese border. This in turn reflects a top-level decision to take all necessary action, over an indeterminate period, to eliminate any “threat from the West.”
Informed sources explain that what is being considered is “extensive and very harsh operations in the area of the Lebanese borders, against all sites used by the oppositionists, even if that means directing strikes at forces operating directly on the border, possibly including Lebanese groups that support them. ” The message is that so long as the Lebanese are incapable of preventing parts of their country from becoming havens for armed rebels, the Syrian authorities will act to neutralize those areas.
In addition to pursuing the goal of clearing Homs and its hinterland of armed opposition enclaves and cells, action is being taken against concentrations of opposition fighters elsewhere, especially bases and training sites near the Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders. The Syrian army appears to have embarked on a campaign described as “extremely harsh.” aimed at “exterminating entire groups” of rebels.
The Syrian leadership has been coordinating closely with the Russian leadership on such matters. According to informed sources, Moscow may even have intervened to block the execution of some military orders after they were issued. But this was in the context of its efforts to strengthen its diplomatic hand. Russia is not expected to stand in the way of the Syrian authorities as they embark on actions that could be of different order to what we have seen so far.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.