Opinion: Syria Regime Nearing the End

Last week’s vicious double suicide-bombing attack in Syria was blamed by some on Al Qaeda. But that seems highly unlikely for multiple reasons. Who is really behind the bombings is unclear, but if the violence is not from outside forces, that says much about the desperation level facing the Bashar al-Assad government. Friday’s attacks imply the Syrian regime is down to its last breath.

Even if the regime isn’t being honest about the perpetrators who launched the attacks, that doesn’t mean the regime itself is necessarily behind the terrorism. However, the odds that Al Qaeda actually carried them out is slim.

Firstly, the Syrian regime has actually been accused of supporting terrorism in Iraq against the American forces and the US-supported Iraqi government. So while Al Qaeda may disapprove of the Syrian government’s secular style, it doesn’t seem that the Assad authorities would be very high on the Al Qaeda hit-list.

This is especially true considering the situation in Iraq. The US forces just concluded their military operation there, and bombings last week show that terrorists see the American withdrawal as a reason for continuing attacks against the West-supported Iraqis, not suspending terror. Targeting Baghdad, not Damascus, makes more sense for Al Qaeda.

So if it wasn’t Al Qaeda, who bombed the Syrian security forces on Friday? One possibility raised on Twitter by former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, according to The Daily Star, is that the Assad authorities carried out the attack on themselves.

That’s a bold statement, and the US government did not suggest such a possibility in their condemnation of the terrorism.

The one thing that suggests it might have been an inside job is the timing. The Arab League observers, sent as monitors to hopefully curb the violent crackdown on Syrian protesters by the Assad regime, arrived the same day as the blasts.

The Syrian authorities have long blamed the violence in the country on “armed gangs” and terrorists. A pair of massive suicide bombings certainly reinforces the idea that the Assad regime is being forced to respond with violence against a foreign-sponsored insurgency, not protestors.

Of course that’s not the case, but image is very important in diplomacy and in efforts to try and hold on to the few hearts in Syria who haven’t turned on the government yet. Despite the possible benefits to the authorities from such a tragic and sick conspiracy of bombing one’s own security forces, it also underscores how desperate the regime would be in such a scenario. The regime’s only hope is that the army stays loyal—and killing their own doesn’t inspire loyalty, unless its fear-driven.

On the other hand, if the attack was by the opposition movement, that too bodes ill for the Assad leadership. It would mark a clear escalation in the fight against the regime. That has the potential for hurting the protest movement, as the global community—and specifically the Arabs—may support the opposition less as a resut. Or not.

The United Nations has already warned Syria may head towards civil war, and such violence might spill over or cause more problems in the oil-rich Middle East. So the West may decide its time to get involved, as they did in Libya. Or they may also further support the insurgents to try and turn the tide against Assad. Both approaches would be with the goal of ending the conflict as quickly and bloodlessly as possible. Turkey could also get involved, since a Syrian civil war would not be good for their shared border region.

Obviously, such a scenario would be horrific. Many would surely die on both sides, with Assad likely increasing the killing even more in a desperate move to crush the rebellion.

With Arab League monitors entering the country, however, Assad is going to have to be on his best behavior for now. Otherwise he will seal his fate as the Arab nations further isolate him. Therefore the opposition has much reason for hope at this time.

Assad clearly is nearing the end of his rule. He has another chance or two to hang on, as so many brutal dictators have in the past. But the Arab Spring has shown us that the past doesn’t matter anymore.

The West should still take a lesson from the recent past and intervene as best as they can while encouraging the Arab League’s sanctions on Syria to try and nudge Assad out as quickly as possible. The death toll is awful enough as it is. If civil war begins, things will only get worse, and the violence could cause problems in a volatile region.

The protests against Muammar Gaddaffi and Hosni Mubarak both had turning points that heralded the end of the Libyan and Egyptian dictatorships respectively. Years, months or even weeks from now, we may be looking back at this past Friday’s terror blasts as the beginning of the end for Assad.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, December 25, 2011)