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May 22, 2022

Assad’s end

Several developments of the Syrian dossier occurred last week that justify the title of this column. If some 21 months have passed since the beginning of the uprising against the Bashar Al Assad regime of Syria, and the Syrian army waged a real war against the rebels, which resulted in over 40,000 victims and almost 4 million refugees (in the country and abroad) so far, we are getting close to the moment when this civil war will be history. Perhaps it will not end at once – and we will insist later on this incertitude – but anyway, it will bring to an end the oppressive and criminal regime of Assad – the son.Why are we saying this? What makes us say that it is the end of the Assad regime, even if fighting will continue between his faction and insurgent forces, maybe several months from now?First, it was the recognition by global players of decisive importance – USA and the EU – of the political expression of the Syrian armed revolt against the authoritarian regime in Damascus as representative of the national interest.

This organisation, known as the Syrian National Council (SNC), recently founded under the pressure of the USA and other states, to ensure the congruence of the political power transfer after toppling Assad, thus received certain international legitimacy. This equally means the massive de-legitimisation of the Allawit regime.Second, last Thursday two statements were made almost simultaneously, which are crucial for understanding the way the Syrian civil war evolves. The first was made by the secretary general of the North-Atlantic Alliance, A. Rasmussen, who said that Assad’s regime “is approaching collapse. I think now it is only a question of time.” The second belongs to the Russian deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Bogdanov, who said: “We need to face the truth,/…/A current tendency is that the regime and the government keep losing control over an ever-growing territory.” If the former statements was delivered by one of those who closely monitor the evolution of the Syrian internal conflict – recently, NATO member states like the USA, Germany and the Netherlands decided to deploy ‘Patriot’ missiles on the border between Syria and Turkey, in order to answer possible missile attacks ordered by the Assad regime against the Turkish territory in an attempt to expand the conflict at regional scale – the latter has a particular significance. Until now – it is known – Russia was an active supporter of the Assad regime, out of reasons that are not analysed in this column – suffice to say that, through this support, Moscow resumed, after two decades, its role of major player in the Middle East – so Bogdanov’s statement also signifies the beginning of a process of abandoning the Russian position that the conflict must have a political solution, resulting from a dialogue between Assad and the insurgents, and accepting a military one. Concurrently, Moscow launched preparations in view of repatriating thousands of Russian citizens living on Syrian territory.Third, the military evolution of the Syrian internal conflict clearly demonstrates that the Assad regime is losing ground and initiative. This is not so much about the fact that the fight has reached the capital of the country, where government air forces bomb the very districts of Damascus, but of late the regime also started using Scud missiles with conventional warheads. This led many analysts to the conclusion that we are witnessing the final phase of the struggle and the balance is tipped towards the insurgents. Another development worth mentioning is that the ranks of the governmental army gradually and rapidly thinned these last weeks to just tens of thousands, from the impressive force of 300,000 at the beginning of the conflict.Of course, the regime still avails of an impressive non-conventional arsenal (chemical and biological weapons) that justifies NATO’s decision to deploy ‘Patriot’ interceptor missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unlikely that the regime will use them. Anyway, one must emphasise that the existence of WMD (weapons of mass destruction)  in possession of the Assad regime poses an extremely sensitive issue, given the nearing end of this regime. The fear that, as it reaches and impossible situation, it might use these weapons either against its own people, either against its own people, or against neighbour countries – Turkey and Israel – in an attempt to expand the conflict, started being a major concern for the international community. Especially as Tehran firmly protested against the deployment of ‘Patriot’ missiles in Turkey, which it considers as a provocation for the strategic situation in the region. The imperative of placing this dangerous arsenal under control represents one of the main motivations for – let’s say – the argumentation invoked in support of a US intervention in Syria, especially as the ranks of Syrian rebels also include organisations close to the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda (one of these groups was listed last week by Washington among terrorist organisations). At the same time, it is precisely this concern about the Syrian non-conventional arsenal that intensified the western pressure aimed at unifying the Syrian opposition and recognising it as legitimate, so the post-Assad power transfer is made in a controlled manner, also with regard to this sensitive subject.Of course, one must keep under close scrutiny the evolution of the situation in this country. Once the Assad regime collapses, the transfer of power could generate different types of complications. One must not rule out – and this possibility increases the fear about terrorist groups gaining access to WMD – a scenario in which the Syrian civil war continues, with various factions struggling to get the power, in which ethnic and religious organisations and militias clash against transnational radical Islamist networks and against the groups inheriting the old regime, in a bloody competition. This civil war has a strong potential of expanding to neighbour countries like Lebanon and Jordan. On the other hand, in a country where more than two thirds of the population are Sunnis, one might expect that the regional trend of forming a Sunni axis opposing a Shiite one will determine – in the post-Assad era – the intervention of states interested in their own regional designs, including Iran.So, it is obvious that the Assad regime is nearing its end, but it is equally true that its local or regional “heritage” will represent, for a long time, a reason of concern for the international community.

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