The Syrian civil war

The explosion that killed the Syrian Defense Minister, Pres. Assad’s brother-in-law and a top General in the Armed Forces might be a turning point in the Syrian insurrection. This has been going on since last March, when the Arab spring turned into winter, and thousands were killed when the Assad regime turned its artillery and tanks on its own people. At that time, even when 10,000 were dead, many people said that Assad’s forces could handle the uprising. Commentators said that until the fighting rages in Damascus Assad could handle the periphery.

But, now that time has come, and after 17,000 deaths, fighting is raging in Damascus. The Army barracks that protects the Presidential Palace is in flames and the explosion at the Defense Ministry has been a huge blow to the top echelons of the Assad regime. Even if it is only a psychological blow, one now sees that the insurrection has staying power and is highly popular among the majority of the Syrian people. With extensive fighting going on in Damascus, where in street fighting heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery are quite useless, this favors the Free Syrian Army, and with roads in and out of Damscus cut, the uprising has entered a new phase. At this moment Pres. Assad must decide whether he wants to run or fight. If the latter it will be a fight to the death and in all likelihood, with defections rising, he is on a downward slope. This might lead to a great deal of settling scores and a bloodbath of the minority Awalis, who have been lording it over trhe majority Sunnis for the past 40 years.

At the UN, the British draft of a new resolution calling for greater UN intervention in Syria, although not yet military intervention as in Libya, has been vetoed by the Russian and Chinese. It will not be forgotten that the Russians blocked all UN action while the regime was killing thousands of civilians. While only true idealists expect anything but chaos to come from this situation, it is unlikely that a new dictator will rule Syria after Assad and the Baath Party are destroyed. Probably a Muslim Brotherhood coalition is likely as in Tunisia and Egypt. But, Syria is different from both of them, it has more ethnic tension, between the Sunnis, Awalis and the Kurds, as well as Christian minorities, and anything can happen.

In Israel, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak called his top generals to meet to discuss the current situation of warfare raging close to Israel’s border with Syria. There are reports that Syrian chemical warfare agents have been moved from their storage sites, whether to be used against the Syrian people or to be transferred to Hizbollah in Lebanon is unclear. A suicidal action by the regime in extremis against Israel must also be considered. Also, the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria with five Israeli dead might result in IDF reaction against Hizbollah. What is clear is that the downfall of Assad would be a major blow for the Iranian regime, that uses it as a conduit to Lebanon and the Palestinians, and a minor blow to the Russians, that have their only warm water port on the Syrian coast.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.