Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy to Syria, spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad
on Monday after driving from Lebanon – instead of flying into Syria’s
international airport, which has been at the center of recent
Brahimi said his talks were supposed to bring the Syrian
situation to a peaceful conclusion.
This desire, however, seems highly
unlikely, as rebel forces continue to advance and Assad continues to lose ground
and forces. Rebels have taken numerous military bases and fighting has engulfed
On Monday, the Lebanese Daily Star reported that jihadist
rebels had taken over parts of an Alawite village near Hama.
also noted that the Al-Nusra Front, which was recently designated as a terrorist
organization by the US, was making advances as well.
faction has reportedly warned two Christian villages near Maan they would be
attacked if they failed to kick out pro-Assad fighters.
intense pressure, there have been swirling rumors that Assad plans to use
chemical weapons to put down the uprising. On Sunday, Syria stated that it would
never use chemical weapons, but later in the day rebels claimed they were under
a poison gas attack in the city of Homs. Independent media have not confirmed
these latest rebel claims and it should be noted that they have made similar
unsubstantiated claims in the past.
In what may be a hint of where things
are heading, Syrians continue to vote with their feet, fleeing the country as it
heads towards a bloody sectarian end game. The month of December has witnessed a
sharp increase in the number of refugees flooding into Jordan.
them are worried that the regime is going to use chemical weapons, since they
already have witnessed Assad’s escalation of the firing of scud
Joel Parker, a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University who
closely monitors Syrian opposition websites and postings, believes that “whether
the chemical weapons report is confirmed or not, the rumor itself may cause more
people to flee the country – just as we already have seen in the month of
December, following reports that Assad was preparing his chemical
While Israel and the US have drawn up action plans to intervene
if Assad uses chemical weapons, it may not be enough to restrain the Syrian
leader as the noose continues to tighten. If Arab history is any example, and
particularly the recent history of Arab uprisings, it shows that it is winner
takes all, and each side knows the stakes.
Parker finds it significant
that no rebels thus far have taken over any Syrian media.
“If the rebels
were able to take over even one media outlet such as a radio or TV station, it
would be a significant breakthrough,” he says.
Western countries as well
as most Sunni Arab states have shown support for the rebels, though evidence of
a significant Islamist presence in the opposition has prevented some from fully
Meanwhile, however, The New York Times revealed back in
June that the CIA has been funneling weapons through Turkey to members of the
Syrian Islamist opposition. The same report indicated that Turkey, Saudi Arabia
and Qatar were funding weapons transfers, which were largely being directed
towards Islamist-dominated opposition forces.
The same regional dynamic
is playing itself out in Syria. On one hand, you have a Sunni- Shi’a conflict,
such as that between Iran and the Sunni Gulf states, and on the other, you have
a Revolutionary Islamist faction against more conservative states seeking the
status quo, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
In Syria, we are seeing more
of a Sunni-Shi’a confrontation.
The Shi’a faction, led by Iran, is
supporting the Alawite regime of Assad while the Sunnis are siding with the
The latest example of this came on Monday, when Kuwait
announced that it would be hosting a Syria donor meeting in late January to aid
the Syrian opposition. Further evidence of this can be seen by looking at the
Shi’a-controlled governments in Iraq and Lebanon, which have sided with their
Shi’a partners in Iran.
In Jordan, however, the fallout is more along the
lines of an Islamist-conservative regime battle, with the domestic Islamist
opposition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood leading the movement against
Western-backed King Hussein. There have been reports of Islamist fighters
returning from Syria and turning their ire against the monarchy.
Syrian rebels close in on Assad and Syrian refugees continue to flee the war
zone, it becomes increasingly evident that the future of Damascus will be
bloody. This might mean that a kind of stalemate will come about, dividing Syria
into various regions of control determined along sectarian lines – or it might
result in a complete rebel takeover of the country – but any Western or Israeli
involvement could speed the process along.