State in free fall

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 25, 2012, shows forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fighting in the al-Qadam district of Damascus. AFP PHOTO/HO

The crisis in Syria appears set to enter its latest phase, one that will likely be characterized by an even more horrific level of death and destruction.

Naturally, the resignation of Kofi Annan this week was a bit of an anticlimax event since the “mission” he led had already ground to a halt long ago, by his own admission. A new round of diplomatic initiatives might be launched, after the U.N. General Assembly Friday said it deplored the Security Council’s failure to act. But the truly significant developments appear to be taking place on the ground.

Several days ago, the Syrian authorities were boasting that the “battle for Damascus” had ended, but this week has seen yet another stepping-up of violence throughout the country, from Deir al-Zor in the east to the main cities in Syria’s interior – Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs and Deraa. The hostilities between the regime’s forces and the rebels have also returned to the capital, particularly around the Palestinian refugee camps, and have prompted groups that have historically been close to Damascus to express condemnation of the violence.

Last month’s bomb attack against an intelligence building in Damascus was seen as a severe blow to the regime as it killed several top security and military figures. However, their successors appear to be at least as committed to pursuing the policy of violent crackdowns against the population, and the element of using fixed-wing aircrafts on civilian areas has now apparently become part of the regime’s response to the uprising.

But as some military analysts are beginning to point out, force does not necessarily represent strength, as they describe a regime that appears to be running out of options, and not bolstering its position.

The Soviet Union was “militarily stronger” than the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, just as the U.S. was stronger than the Vietnamese, and the Israelis stronger than the Palestinians. As for purely domestic struggles, Tunisia’s regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was “stronger” than its opponents, just as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak headed a military and security apparatus that would supposedly defeat any domestic challenge.

In Syria, the authorities might become encouraged by the body count, or the list of rebel-held areas that are brutally punished by government artillery and aircraft. But the conflict is not only a military one. After the opposition was supposedly reeling last week, the phenomenon of anti-regime demonstrations has returned.

Moreover, the number of people who have been displaced by the fighting is on the rise – these refugees of violence have often taken shelter in the homes of their fellow citizens, relaying first-hand the massive level of death and destruction underway, and eroding any popularity the regime might have enjoyed.

Only a political or diplomatic miracle will be able to halt a country in free fall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 04, 2012, on page 7.




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