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Syria: inevitable descent into civil war?

o Irans extended political and material support to its


sole Arab ally
The regime of Bashar al-Assad is pursuing a relentless o Technical assistance to monitor communications,
security campaign that is unlikely to deliver the outright and has helped the regime to circumvent oil
victory that he seeks sanctions, shore up its economy and acquire
o Rebel groups are mounting self-defense operations weapons and ammunition
and challenging the security forces, though their However, Assad has already lost Hamas symbolic support,
effort has not been coordinated or powerful enough the Palestinian group whose loyalty has been torn
to weaken the regime decisively. between its anti-Israeli patrons and its identity as a Sunni
Stalling of international diplomacy is causing some Arab movement
countries to consider more direct involvement but there POLITICAL FRONT, Assad pays lip service to the idea of
remains widespread reluctance to intervene. reform in order to paint his detractors as bent on
The erosion of its credibility, authority, resources and destroying the nation and its institutions, just as he is
territorial hold is unlikely to be decisively reversed seeking to strengthen them.
o Assad has had to fracture the Syrian polity in Feb. 26 referendum, a new constitution nominally ends
irremediable ways: the primacy of the Baath party and promises political
The state purposely cultivates tension and rifts pluralism.
within society The rationale behind promises of reform is to split the
Security services often operate as occupation opposition by reaching out to people who accept the
forces. principle of dialogue and reject the internationalization of
Syrians of all political persuasions are finding ways of the crisis at a time when the opposition lacks a political
circumventing the state apparatus in order to cope, strategy.
organize and survive. o Cosmetic reforms are also necessary to allow Russia
The regimes Tactic and China to counter international and Arab
accusations that their support for Assad is
Assads government used the respite offered by the unconditional, meant only to create time and space
Russian-Chinese veto of a UNSC resolution that called for for repressions
a transition of power in Syria to step up its security
campaign. Armed Opposition
o Feb. 2012, the regime launched counter-attacks Free Syrian Army (FSA) hardly developed beyond a
across the country to recover ground lost to franchise that galvanizes civilians and drives recruitment
opposition groups into armed resistance to the regime.
o The heaviest fighting is now taking place in the city o Its small fighting units, consist mainly of defectors
of Homs, where determined defectors assisted by from the normal army, operate alongside various
armed civilians have held several neighborhoods for tribal and sectarian groups and criminal gangs have
months. also seized opportunities
The regime focused with relative success on areas closer Role of FSA fighters became more prominent
to the capital Damascus, fearing that unrest there would o Conducted in conjunction with local self-defense
demoralize supporters and energize the opposition. groups, these daring attacks against regime forces
Security forces are constrained by several factors: have caused significant casualties.
o Not everybody can be counted on o Popular frustration has grown at the political
o Deploying units whose loyalty is in question could oppositions failure to unite and mobilize
lead to defections, but relying on trusted units international action, turning the FSA fighters into
overstretches them folk heroes dedicated to protecting civilians and
Whatever military success it achieves, the government neighborhoods.
faces a deteriorating economic and security situation that Recent fighting exposed the weakness of the armed
is corroding its fundamental trade-off with key opposition and a tendency to carry out locally motivated
constituencies. operations
o For minorities, regime protection required the Fear of penetration by the regime plagues its operations
abandonment of political rights and unconditional o In recent months, the rate of defection from the
alignment with Assad. regular Syrian military has increased but rarely have
o Assad is reduced to exploiting fears of the unknown, entire units broken away despite persistent rumors
of Islamists and a grand conspiracy. to the contrary, there is little evidence that they
Assad can also count on significant Iranian backing have received sophisticated weapons- they are
forced to engage in urban warfare in which their The Arab League has adopted an unprecedented series of
knowledge of the terrain and the sympathy of the measures against Syria:
population are a counterweight to the regimes o Membership suspension
superior firepower and armored capabilities. o Sanctions
o Dispatch of a monitoring mission and referral of a
The Opposition
transitional plan to the UNSC
Political opposition has yet emerged as a credible The UNGA overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding
alternative to the Assad regime resolution condemning the Syrian regime and backing the
o Has limited contact with the armed insurrection Arab League plan.
and the local coordination committees that o Former UN Sec.Gen Kofi Annan has been appointed
organize peaceful demonstrations and as the envoy of the Arab League and the UN
disobedience, leaving it seemingly blindsided and Reflecting the division and apprehension in the internal
overtaken by events. community, the conference did not result in any
Major umbrella group, the Syrian National Council (SNC) important decisions
suffered from poor communication, infighting and a split o The group called for an immediate ceasefire and
between secular activists and Islamists. the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and
o Attempt to unify the SNCs component groups mentioned the possibility of additional sanctions
o Failed as splits have persisted along political, The SNC head endorsed the Arab League
sectarian, ethnic, and regional lines initiative and presented a political vision for
o SNC has yet to articulate a vision that will convince post-Assad Syria, the SNC did not receive
fence-sitters and key pro-regime sympathizers who recognition as the Syrian populaces only
fear retribution and relegation if Assad is deposed legitimate representative
Ambiguous stance on foreign interventions and the future
Foreign Intervention
of minorities has especially estranged Alawites, a
heterodox Shia Muslim sect to which Syrias ruling elite Desperate Syrians are calling for intervention to protect
belongs to, who hoped it would serve as a brake on the civilians, often without defining its scope, requirements or
uprisings growing sectarian instincts. the possible identity of the intervening party, others resist
The SNCs failure to win international recognition as the this idea on principle or because of the experience of Iraq.
sole representative of the Syrian people and to obtain a Many rebel commanders are calling for foreign
strong UN resolution has been costly in terms of domestic involvement in the form of no-fly or safe zones as a way
support to establish a Benghazi-like bas where their units can
Internal splits within the two organization (SNC & FSA) group, train and equip themselves.
have previously derailed collaborative efforts while FSA The range of possible forms of intervention mentioned by
commanders have bemoaned the inability of the SNC to the various players in broad.
provide them with funding and weaponry and SNC leaders o It extend from monitoring events
worry that military commanders will emerge as the o Opening humanitarian corridors and imposing no-
shapers of a post-Assad Syria fly zones to arming the rebellion
Syria-based activists affiliated with the National o Creating safe zone and launching attacks on the
Coordination Body, another opposition group argued regimes military assets.
against the internationalization of the crises and in favor Syrias military shows level of readiness, cohesion,
of a dialogue with the regime, but this argument organization and equipment significantly greater than
weakened as the death toll mounted. that of Muammar Gadhafi.
The issue of intervention has divided Arab states and
Arab and International Diplomacy
threatened to end the fragile consensus at the Arab
International community has been slow and divided in its League
response to Syrias rebellion o Each countrys personal interests clashed with each
Only major initiative come from the Arab League, which other
has been goaded by Gulf nations into playing a prominent Gulf states, enraged by the Russian veto, intent on rolling
role back Iranian influence and pressed to do more by their
o Saudi sees an opportunity in Assads fall to reverse own publics, are examining ways to support the armed
Irans gains in the Levant and to reclaim its role as rebellion with funding and weaponry.
Arab and Sunni leader o Rumors that they have done so already remain
unconfirmed, though Gulf individuals have
undoubtedly contributed to the rebel cause
o Lacking experience in running complex intelligence
operations abroad, they would have to rely on
intermediaries like Jordan or Turkey, which are
both nervous about further destabilization on their
immediate borders
The Wests reluctance to get involved, along with its
doubts about the Gulf states resolve and agenda will be
further disincentives for Ankara