This operation was conducted by the insurgents with help from within Assad’s close circle, proving once again that the bloodthirsty, tyrannical dictator has no chance of winning the war he is waging against his own people, despite the appearance that he exerts full control over the country.
You may be sure that this operation -- which killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Assef Shawkat, who is the husband of Assad’s elder sister Bushra and a strong figure in the Baath system, and former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani, also seriously wounding Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar and National Security Department head Maj. Gen. Hisham Ikhtiar -- will be the beginning of the end for Assad. Assad, who made no public appearance after this critically important operation, is very unlikely to stay in Damascus.
Nevertheless, it is still too early to declare victory for the popular revolution in Syria. Indeed, as seen in a recent military exercise in which the Syrian army used real weapons and ammunition, Assad has no trouble accessing arms or munitions, and he is not in trouble financially. It wouldn’t be wrong to attribute this largely to backing from Iran, Russia and China. The only problem he currently suffers from is a lack of reliable soldiers, and Assad has tried to fill this gap with armed gangs called Shabiha, consisting largely of Nusayri men. The current phase of the Syrian crisis actually suggests that violence and bloodshed may lead to further massacres and even genocide. This is well evidenced by the fact that the number of people killed in Syria over the last 24 hours exceeds 300. Having already ruthlessly killed more than 17,000 civilians, including women and children, in the 17 months since the start of the revolt, Assad’s bloodthirsty troops may embark on large-scale massacres, reacting to finding themselves in a tight corner as of today.
Reports from insurgents that the Assad administration has distributed thousands of gas masks to its supporters indicate that the Assad dictatorship may use chemical weapons on civilians in insurgent-dominated settlements as a last resort. That his father Hafez Assad had slaughtered tens of thousands of people in Hama in 1982 for very simple reasons should be regarded as proof that son Bashar, in apparently tighter conditions, may conduct more catastrophic massacres. In other words, these reports must be taken seriously by the international community and powers, or they will hold moral responsibility for potential massacres undertaken for purposes of ethnic cleansing, similar to what happened in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. There is no way to prevent such massacres other than the international community coming together as a single voice. Therefore, by obstructing the passage of a resolution by the United Nations Security Council for a legitimate international intervention, Russia and China may be primarily responsible for potential massacres.
On the other hand, it is also suggested that Assad may opt to reinforce the regime in a narrower geographical region and terrorize people to this end. Thus, it must be noted that he may launch ethnic cleansing campaigns in certain regions for this purpose. And it goes without saying that one frequently voiced scenario suggesting that the Assad regime may withdraw to the demographically and geographically more secure mountainous Tartus-Latakia strip located on the Mediterranean coast, with a dominantly Nusayri population, also entails the possibility of ethnic cleansing.
As you might notice, I indicate that Russia and China will have a certain responsibility for potential massacres and even counter-massacres that may occur in Syria from now on. And I am not referring to the role of Iran, or the Iran-affiliated Hezbollah or the Nouri al-Maliki administration in Iraq. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin did not signal any change in his position on the Syrian crisis during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s critical visit to Moscow or after the phone call from US President Barack Obama, I believe that Russia may soon change its position radically. We will see the preliminary signs of this change in the attitude Russia exhibits during the UNSC meeting, being held while at the time of writing this article. I do not think we have to make a special assessment of China as this country seems to follow in the footsteps of Russia to determine its position on the Syrian crisis.
Of course, the main problem here will be about Iran and its affiliates. You can be assured that Iran and its affiliates will do everything to ensure that the Assad regime, which they refer to as the “resistance front” in an effort to win sympathy for it, survives at any price. Ensuring the continuation of this regime -- which has evolved from a “line of resistance” against imperialism and external interventions to a “front of resistance” against the public’s demand for democratic change, maintaining the status quo in the region -- is of vital importance to the Tehran regime. Syria not only facilitates Iran’s access to and communication with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it also provides Iran with a geopolitical infrastructure for access to the Mediterranean. As I have noted countless times before in this column, for Iran to maintain the great strategic strip extending from the Indian Ocean to the eastern Mediterranean (Shiite Crescent) in terms of demographic and ideological factors in the region, it must exert strict control over Syria, as the most important link in this chain, at any cost.
Knowing that its influence over Lebanon, as well as Iraq via the Maliki administration, would be severely damaged in the event of the collapse of the Assad regime, Iran would not refrain from doing everything to ensure the survival of Assad. This is the main reason Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Tehran were as enraged as the Assad administration by the successful, destructive operation in Damascus. Their rage, it should be noted, may encourage Iran and Hezbollah to spread the fire in Syria to other regions. So we must be wary of the possibility that in retaliation for the support of Turkey and some Sunni Arab countries for the Syrian opposition, Iran and its regional gang may launch a dirty proxy war. Given the fact that Iran has been successfully using Hezbollah in its covert war against Israel for decades, Iran may opt to mobilize the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) against Turkey and Shiite minorities against Arab countries.
It is true that neither Russia nor China’s temporary support, nor Iran’s zealous backing, will be enough to perpetuate Assad’s tyrannical regime. But this support will unfortunately cost the lives of more innocent people. I reiterate once again: The responsibility for every person killed in Syria will belong to Russia and China as much as it does to Assad, and, more, to Iran’s regime, obsessed with Shiite sectarianism.