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Assad Assaults Rebel ‘Free Zones’

The tactic is likely to fail, but the rebels are similarly too weak to overthrow him.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

March 16, 2012 - 12:00 am
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In both Homs and Idleb, the Free Syrian Army has avoided heroic last stands in urban areas. Rather, the bulk of the fighters leave before the army makes its final assault. This has the unfortunate side-effect of leaving the civilian population more or less defenseless when the army and the “Shabiha” Alawi paramilitaries enter, but it reflects sensible guerrilla strategy. The FSA is aware that it cannot hope to prevail against Assad’s forces in a straight, head-on clash. It thus prefers to conserve its resources, and to harass the army and the Shabiha in the countryside.

What all this adds up to is prolonged civil war. Since the “international community” appears to be indifferent to the fate of the people of Syria, no early resolution of the crisis can be expected. The rebellion still lacks a coherent strategy for toppling the Assad regime, and is too weak to do so without external aid. But the counter-revolution now under way also shows that the regime lacks any clear plan.

The Assad regime entirely lacks legitimacy, at least outside of the Alawi population of Syria which constitutes 12% of the total. This means that the only tool available to it is force. So when force appears not to deliver the desired results, its only recourse is to apply more force. And it isn’t working. In Homs and Idleb provinces, the FSA has survived the government onslaught and is operating in the countryside. In Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Hassakeh, Qamishli, and Damascus itself, demonstrations are continuing.

A formidable international coalition is currently assembled behind the Assad regime. It consists of Russia, Iran, China, and Hizballah. The rebels, meanwhile, currently have only Kofi Annan. In spite of this, and in spite of the massacres and the bloody repression, the uprising against the Syrian dictatorship is holding on. The counter-revolution now under way will not succeed in putting out the fire.

But the ultimate outcome depends largely on whether the West will come to the rebels’ aid or abandon the Syrian people to their fate.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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