Analysis: Assad gains confidence boost from recent victories, belief that West will not directly intervene

The fact that, at least for now, US President Barack Obama has ignored his own red line over the use of chemical weapons in Syria has not gone unnoticed in Damascus.

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August 6, 2013 05:54
2 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad heading a cabinet meeting in Damascus, February 12, 2013.

Bashar Assad 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s speech on Sunday stating that he would crush “terrorists” marked a boost to his self-confidence and the strengthening of his beliefs that he will be able to defeat the Sunni-dominated opposition forces.

Over the past few weeks, Assad’s forces have made advances on the ground and with increasing infighting between various factions of the opposition. With this in mind, Assad may be seeking to strike while the opposition is down.

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Perhaps just as important is the perception that the US is not going to directly intervene in the conflict, but will maintain some light support and training that will not be enough to change the momentum of the fighting. The fact that, at least for now, US President Barack Obama has ignored his own red line over the use of chemical weapons has not gone unnoticed in Damascus.

In addition, fighting has broken out between the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and Kurdish militias, thus distracting one of the rebels’ most potent forces. A few weeks ago fighters allied to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the strongest local Kurdish group with its well-armed and effective militias, captured a town from Nusra fighters. Days later, PYD leader Saleh Muslim announced it would set up an independent council to run Kurdish areas of Syria until the war ends.

Daily clashes have continued between Kurds and Islamists across Syria’s northern areas and in the early hours on Friday, PYD fighters killed 12 Islamist fighters in the northeastern province of Hassake – which borders Turkey and Iraq – the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Marking this frustration, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news website ran an article by Abdul Wahab Badrakhan titled, “Assad plays the Kurdish card,” implying that Assad is behind the Kurdish decision to attack Syrian rebels.

“There’s no doubt that the regime wants to exploit this experience and build upon it according to what serves its divisional scheme,” wrote Badrakhan.



Another factor, which has coincided with the turn in Assad regime’s favor, was the toppling of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi last month, a staunch ally of the Islamist-dominated opposition.

Prof. Eyal Zisser – an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center – told The Jerusalem Post that the recent trend of a “reversal” of the Arab revolutions also might influence the Syrian situation, though he said it is too early to tell what will happen in this regard.

With anti-Islamist forces resurgent in Tunisia and Libya as well, the regional momentum for the Arab Spring seems to be dissipating.

Concerning Assad’s speech, Zisser said that over the past three years “all his speeches have been the same,” showing strong resolve and seeking to boost the confidence of his supporters.

However, he noted that on Sunday he spoke with “a little more confidence” as he “feels that the opposition is not succeeding.”

Zisser, who has long argued that one of the main limitations of the opposition was its lack of unity, reiterated that the rebels are not led by one organization.

Yet, “they could still beat him in the end,” he said, adding that the conflict is likely to linger on for some time.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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