Assad sees civil war as best option

Assad has little reason to fear retaliation from the West over the ongoing bloodshed in Syria

“There is no doubt that the (Syrian) government used artillery and tanks (in Houla),” said Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday — but then he added: “There is also no doubt that many bodies have been found with injuries from firearms received at point-blank range. We are dealing with a situation where both sides participated in the killings of innocent civilians.”

Russia is at last admitting that Syria is using heavy weapons against its own civilian population. It could hardly do less, given the scale of Saturday’s massacre in the village of Taldou in the Houla region: at least 108 civilians killed, including 49 children. But while other countries are expelling Syrian ambassadors, Lavrov is still trying to spread the blame in order to protect Bashir al-Assad’s regime from foreign intervention.

While some of the victims in Houla were killed by shellfire, others had been shot at close range or knifed to death. Assad’s propagandists insist that the fighters of the Syrian opposition (the “armed terrorist gangs,” as the regime calls them) massacred their own people with rifles and knives in order to put the blame on the government, and Russia is actively promoting the same story. But it is nonsense, and Lavrov must know it.

The testimony of eyewitnesses is consistent: after two hours of shelling by the Syrian army, armed men belonging to the pro-government Shabiha militia entered the village and went door to door killing suspected activists and their families. The government in Damascus doesn’t care that everybody knows it’s lying: the whole point of the massacre is to terrify Syrians into submission, and it knows that NATO will not intervene.

NATO will not go beyond empty threats because it cannot get the support of the United Nations Security Council for using force against Assad’s regime (the Russians and the Chinese would veto it), and because the Syrian armed forces are so big and powerful that it would suffer significant losses if it attacked.

If there is no foreign military intervention, then Syria is heading into a prolonged civil war like Lebanon’s in 1975-1990: the ethnic and religious divisions in Syria are quite similar to those in Lebanon. If the Syrian regime understands that, then why does it persist in killing the protesters? Because it reckons that fighting a prolonged civil war is better than losing power now.

The pro-democracy protests in Syria began soon after the triumph of the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, and for six months they remained entirely non-violent despite savage repression by the regime. (By last September, Assad’s forces had already murdered about 3,000 Syrian civilians.) And so long as the demonstrations stayed non-violent, the vision of a Syrian democracy embracing all sects and ethnic groups remained viable.

Assad’s strategy for survival had two main thrusts. One was to divide the opposition. At the start the protests included Christians, Druze and even some people from Assad’s own community, the Alawites. He needed to separate those minority groups from the majority of the protesters, the Sunni Muslims who make up 70 per cent of Syria’s population.

His other goal was to lure the protesters into using force, because that would license his own army to use far greater force against them. Eventually, in October/November, deserters from the Syrian army (who took their weapons with them) began shooting back at Assad’s troops, and he had his pretext. After that, he was free to use artillery against city centres, slaughter whole villages, whatever he liked.

The shift to open warfare also had the effect of frightening most Christians, Druze and Alawites back into the regime’s camp. They bought the regime’s lies about the resistance being run by Sunni Islamist fanatics with al-Qaeda connections (although it is nothing of the sort), and decided that even Assad and his henchmen were better than a democracy that brought vengeful Sunni Muslims to power.

So Assad now has about 30 per cent of the population on his side, plus most of the army, all of the heavy weapons and the world’s nastiest intelligence services. That’s enough to fight a long civil war, and maybe even enough to win it.

Russia and China will guard Assad’s diplomatic flank, and the other Arab states will do nothing beyond sending some money and a few weapons to the rebels. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan is a dead letter, and NATO will not intervene militarily. Civil war is Assad’s best option for survival, and he’s not stupid.

 

 

 

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

 

Just Posted

(Facebook)
New trial date set in Penticton for Thomas Kruger-Allen’s triple assault charges

May trial was delayed after Crown witnesses failed to show up

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

Scales of Justice
Acquittal in Okanagan crash that killed vacationing dentist

Daerio Romeo, 29, was charged with dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm

Renderings of what the skating rink could look like beside City Hall between Martin and Main in downtown Penticton. (Activate Penticton image)
Penticton to get outdoor ice rink this winter

It’s hoped the rink will be ready to host 2022 BCHL’s 60th year celebration

The fate of Skaha Marina and its operations will be decided Saturday, June 19 on general election day. (File photo)
Penticton city hosted last forum before voters decide on fate of Skaha Marina

Residents share concerns about length of operations agreement, parking and control of park

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Orange ribbons are tied to the fence outside Vernon’s Gateway Homeless Shelter on 33rd Street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
POLL: Low-key Canada Day in the works for Vernon

Councillor calling for Indigenous recognition for 2022

A conceptual design of Vernon’s new Active Living Centre, which will go to referendum Oct. 15, 2022. (Rendering)
Active living centre 2022 referendum planned in Vernon

City hoping to get Coldstream and Areas B and C back on board

Closure of the 2900 block of 30th Avenue will allow restaurants and other businesses to extend their patios onto the street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Green light given to downtown Vernon road closure

Single block of 30th Avenue to close over summer months to boost business

Graduating Grade 12 student Savannah Lamb has been awarded an approximate $40,000 scholarship from the Beedie Luminaries foundation. (Contributed)
Dedicated Salmon Arm student earns scholarship to pursue post-secondary education

Savannah Lamb is graduating from Salmon Arm Secondary with a $40,000 scholarship

A provided photo of the suspect. (Kelowna RCMP/Contributed)
Kelowna RCMP investigating after business robbed

An undisclosed amount of money and merchandise were taken from the business

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Grace (left), a caribou that was born in a maternal pen north of Revelstoke, is alive and well said the province. It appears she even has a calf. Maternity pens aim to increase caribou calf survival by protecting them from predation until they are older and less vulnerable. (Contributed)
For the first time in years, caribou numbers increasing near Revelstoke

North herd growing but south herd still concerning

Most Read