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Sunday 5 February 2012

Syria Nears The Endgame

There may have been despair at the United Nations after Russia and China vetoed the latest attempt to get some kind of order into the situation in Syria, but it is looking more likely over time that Bashar Assad and his pals will soon be out of power, and unless they want to go the way of Muammar Gaddafi, out of the country. Because the Syrian army may not be able to carry on much longer.

This estimation has not been made by a pundit or hack, but by General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has left the country and has taken refuge in neighbouring Turkey. The General has asserted that no more than a third of the army is now at combat readiness, with defection and absenteeism rife. That limits the amount of time for which it can maintain its effectiveness.

This assessment comes on the back of Colonel Riyad al-As’ad of the Syrian Free Army telling that half the country is no longer under Government control. Put those two views together and the conclusion has to be that, despite the failure at the UN, the Assad regime is not long for this world, and some thought has to be given to what will happen when – not if – it falls.

And that thought has been applied by the Government of Israel, which is no surprise, given that the two countries share a border. Here, there are grounds for optimism: deputy PM Moshe Ya’alon was talking to Army Radio about the situation and told that “relatively moderate” elements from the Sunni Muslim community could well be brought into power.

Moreover, Ya’alon is clearly hopeful of any new order in Damascus being less close to the Iranians, the latter being perhaps higher up the Israeli agenda right now. He asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a major power in Egypt, was not a significant force in Syria, and hence his conclusion that there would be a “relatively moderate Sunni regime based on an intellectual middle class”.

Ya’alon’s conclusions, though, are inevitably reached from a distance: if the army is in the state Mustafa al-Sheikh suggests, it is entirely possible that if a civil war breaks out following the collapse of the Assad regime, regaining control will be difficult, even in the longer term – unless, of course, the Russians and Chinese learn to keep their hands on the table for the next UN debate.

Because, as I pointed out in November, the situation in Syria has passed the point of no return, that point where Assad could have saved his regime or handed over power peacefully. That he is on his way is not in doubt: whether the country he leaves behind can be salvaged without serious further bloodshed certainly is.

We will know more by the end of the month.

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