24 Jul 2012

Assad’s ‘iron-fist defence’ of Syrian capital

Yesterday it was Midan. Today it was al-Qaboon. In both the picture is pretty clear, that any rebel fighters in these areas have been driven from them. This is a comprehensive victory of the Assad Regime in its own backyard and capital.

The crackling of automatic fire, the crumbling explosion of incoming shellfire, the helicopter gunships quartering the city and firing machinegun bursts – all those sounds have gone pretty much from Damascus today. Replaced by the rather more prosaic hooting of car-horns.

Every now and then army trucks packed with cheering soldiers pass up the city’s main boulevards. It is not a good idea to film one of the world’s most secret armies – even in their moment of triumph.

When you spend any time in places like Midan and al-Qaboon among the rubble and debris, it seems hard to appreciate that just a week ago some excitable reports were predicting this was the final moment for President Assad.

Now the government will take great confidence from the iron-fist defence of the capital and will not be overly worried about the cost in terms of hearts and minds. This is about power. The maintenance of power. The demonstration of power. The use of power.

Picture gallery: Alex’s pictures of the civil war gripping Syria

My judgement is that, far from this last week being any meaningful kind of “tipping point” for the regime, this civil war will continue indefinitely until one of three critical conditions is met. Until then, you will not see the Syrian Army run ragged by fighters armed with little more than Kalashnikovs.

Condition One: Syria’s international backers who supply the arms and the money decide to turn off the tap – primarily we are talking Moscow here but also Teheran as well.

Condition Two: the defection rate in the army becomes strategically pivotal and the command and control mechanism of the armed forces can no longer function.

Condition Three: the politburo surrounding President Assad decides that his position has become untenable and makes its move.

Until any of the above conditions is met, you are not going to see a great deal changing I suspect. It is true the Free Syrian Army is gaining ground in the countryside and the control of some border crossings could become strategic in terms of allowing heavier arms to enter the country.

But this is all a grindingly slow process. We know that none of the critical conditions has yet been met. What we do not know is how near any of them might be to being met.

And it is quite clear that the regime has just had, in Damascus, the biggest boost to its morale in sixteen months of violent civil war.

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