Monday, August 1, 2011

Turning point in Syria?

Several top Syrian generals have defected from Bashar Assad and joined the rebels:

A Syrian Major-General has deserted Assad's army along with a group of other officers and joined the rebels.

In an Arabic video clip posted on Youtube on July 29, 2011, the officer, Major-General Riad El As'ad is seen in the company of other officers, announcing the establishment of the "Free Syrian Army whose main goal will be to fight the army of oppression headed by President Bashar Assad".

As'ad accused the Assad regime of crimes against the Syrian people and called on the officers and soldiers in the Syrian army not to aim their weapons at the people. He further called on them to join the Free Syrian Army.

The major-general warned that the Free Army will eliminate any soldier who acts to harm his own people. The present army commanders do not represent the army, he continued, they are acting for the criminal gang that controls the media and prevents the people from obtaining truthful information on what is happening.
Apparently, defections from Assad's army have been increasing in recent weeks. Gateway Pundit points out continued reports that Iran, through its Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) and Quds forces, and Hezbollah have been assisting the the Assad regime, and adds its own comment to the story:

After years of killing, tyranny, and oppression, the kingdom of silence is silent no more.

And, where has our president been? Silent.
Back in June I offered this analysis on the possibilities of the Syrian army switching sides:

The Assad dynasty has always been very narrow in its qualifications for getting any degree of power in the Syrian government. Not just Muslims, not just Shi'ite Muslims, but Alawite Shi'ite Muslims. Preferably from the same town as the Assads. Preferably from the same clan.

This tight focus has produced a leadership in Syria, both civilian and military, that basically has an "us against them" philosophy. With the Alawites as "us" and everyone else as "them."

For that reason there is little chance the army will turn on Assad. The biggest wildcard is the presence of Iranian Pasdaran helping the Assads suppress the people. There could be enough resentment against non-Arabs trying to keep the Assads in power to spill into the armed forces, but even that chance is small.
I haven't seen reference to this General As'ad's religious affiliation.  If he is a top general, then he is likely an Alawite, but I can't say for certain. 

In an earlier post, I pointed to Farid Ghadry's breakdown of Syrian demographics:
Most of its people are Sunni Muslims but there are also Christians, Druze, and Alawites. Who are the Alawites? While arguably Alawites are not Muslims at all, they claim to be Shia Muslims. Syria’s government is also aligned with Iran and Hezbollah — in other words, the Shia Muslim forces.
And therein lies the danger. The ruling Alawites comprise only about 12 percent of Syria’s population but largely dominate the government. The bloody repression of the opposition, which is largely Sunni, is creating communal tensions. Sunni Muslims, who outnumber Alawites by a margin of more than five-to-one, may view this as a Sunni-Alawites and equally a Sunni-Shia conflict.
The Syrian dictatorship has thus begun a blood feud regardless of these potential consequences. Many Syrians I have spoken with inside the country are seething with anger over the Alawite-led government’s butchering of Sunnis. They are equally aware that Hezbollah and the Iranian regime support President Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, secretly and cheer him publicly.
To try to convince enraged young revolutionaries that this is not religiously fostered but rather the work of thugs who happen to be Alawites is futile. Whether the revolution succeeds, is repressed, or continues, a communal war could be the result.
Ghadry stated the best hope for minimizing the bloodshed in Syria and the Middle East was a coup d'etat against Assad led by Alawite generals.  But as the Arutz Sheva article points out:
Assad continues to control the country, but the violent protest against him goes on and has even reached the outskirts of Damascus. Tension is high between the Alawites, the minority Shite sect to which Assad belongs that controls the country, and the majority Sunni sect which is 70% of the Syrian population.
As an aside, with a dictator whose Arabic name is sometimes spelled in English "Assad" and sometimes spelled "Asad" going against a general named "As'ad," this could get very, very confusing.  Like the Iran-Iraq War.  Maybe this could be a trademark dispute disguised as a civil war, but I digress ...

If General As'ad is indeed Alawite, then perhaps Ghadry's scenario is coming to pass.

Let's see how this "Free Syrian Army" works out, in terms of acceptance by the rebels, attracting Alawites to its ranks and general effectiveness.  I'd love for my earlier post to be wrong on this one.  The repercussions could be enormous, and of tremendous benefit to both the US and the world at large.

Which makes Obama's silence on the Syrian revolt inexcusable.

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