Regional sentiment hints at Syrian regime’s fall

Syria said it wouldn't use chemical weapons, but later that day rebels claimed they were under a poison gas attack.

Syria anti-Assad protest 370 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
Syria anti-Assad protest 370 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
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 battles.
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 the capital.
On Monday, the Lebanese Daily Star reported that jihadist rebels had taken over parts of an Alawite village near Hama.
The paper also noted that the Al-Nusra Front, which was recently designated as a terrorist organization by the US, was making advances as well.
Another Islamist faction has reportedly warned two Christian villages near Maan they would be attacked if they failed to kick out pro-Assad fighters.
Under such 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.
Some of 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 missiles.
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 weapons.”
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 embracing it.
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 Sunni opposition.
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.
As the 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.