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Monday, November 12, 2012

The End Days of Assad

What in the World is happening with Syria?

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces elected a leader, Mr. Mouaz al-Khatib, the Damascus native and moderate Sunni cleric who was chosen at the Doha conference to lead the new 63-member body.  The Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the new body as the legitimate body representing the opposition in Syria and within hours, the Arab League followed suit with the U.S. State Department quickly endorsing these new arrangements 

Reading the political tea leaves to decipher what this means essentially shakes this out as the creation of an entity that can assume power once the Assad regime either relinquishes power or is eliminated in some manner.  Naturally, the coalition was made up of a group of 63 people who represent different groups within the opposition and is structured in such a manner as to minimize a the potential for a totally radical new regime to emerge once the Assad Government ceases.  This also has the added feature of creating a more palatable group to funnel a higher quantity of financial resources combined with aid of a far more lethal nature.  After all, these thing will have to be explained to government policy makers and subsequently to the public... at least to some degree.

It's important to weight these developments with a convergence of other developments and comments from the chief allies of Damascus, namely Russia and China.  China, of course, is fully enveloped in a once in a decade leadership change, this means tricky foreign policy initiatives are likely to be placed on the back burner, at least until the new leadership is fully recognized and consolidated in their approach.  Without hesitation, Moscow quickly commented that "such alliances must act based on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference", urging the opposition to drop its stated refusal to negotiate with the regime.  In my opinion, this is hardly a forceful declaration of an impending international crisis that would have to be driven by Putin... it seems as though Syria is not a political hill Putin is willing to die on if I am reading the political tea leaves from Moscow with any degree of accuracy.

Besides, from the Russian perspective, both the economic and strategic importance of Syria has diminished over the decades.  Mother Russia now holds the high Arctic as far more strategic, recognizing the immense hydrocarbon resources in close proximity to their homeland and deep water naval assets.  The Middle East looks like a money pit guarded by a ticking bomb to the Russians, whereas the high Arctic must look like a bloated treasure chest in a region where they have unchallenged navigable superiority and all the most important strategic cards in their hands.  It only makes sense that Putin, being a man who has demonstrated his wisdom in matters political and in matters economic, will likely rattle sabers and complain, but at the end of the day, he will preserve his political capital for the big battles down the road... the ones that will be worth trillions in wealth to the Russian people.

The alliance and recognition required to facilitate more direct aid have given the opposition an enormous boost.  Substantially more indirect resourcing from the West can accelerate quickly as the opposition is now officially recognized.  This also paves the way for the provision of more lethal aid.  Turkey has taken in the vast population of Syrian refugees.  Turkey has also been repeatedly shelled by the Syrian Army, even a Turkish Air Force fighter was shot down by Syrian military forces.  Turkey has been stung repeatedly in this.  Turkey is now publicly discussing talks with NATO about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to guard against further spillover of Syria's conflict. NATO alliance's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made no specific remarks on the possible deployment of Patriots, but he has stated that NATO will not abandon Turkey if Syria continues illegal intrusions into their country.  This is the first major sabre rattling seen from NATO; interesting it would happen so close to the recognition of the opposition, and that both of those would happen less than a week after the US election was over.  Connect the dots... one does not usher in a huge ground breaking power sharing agreement between factions that have been fighting a revolution in Syria, and all in just a couple of days.  I think Hillary has been a very busy as she finishes up her tour as Secretary of State.

Some would view the deployment of Patriot missile systems as a method of establishing specific "no fly" zones in key areas.  This would have the attraction of not having to deploy NATO military aircraft to enforce limited "no fly" zones, forcing the Syrian Air Force to retreat from areas where humanitarian efforts are established.  These areas could be extended to provide strategic cover for opposition forces.  Syrian Army shelling of Turkey lays the groundwork for a potential NATO Patriot screen.  Syrian artillery has also fired into the Golan resulting in the Israeli Defense Forces sending a rocket back at the Syrian artillery position, deliberately missing them of course, but landing it close enough to deliver a message… don't even think about coming into the Golan.  The Israeli's then filed a complaint with the UN representatives in the area, but to no avail.  They Syrian Army lobbed artillery back into the Golan, this time landing in a Israeli military outpost.  The IDF sent back another rocket, although this time with precision.  The rocket landed a direct hit on the Syrian position, no reports of casualties have yet been seen on mainstream media.  All of these things seem to be adding up to a shifting reality; Western powers are putting the pieces together on the board to support a far more serious operation to unseat Assad.

Even the UK Prime Minister suggested Mr. Assad could go into exile recently, but this would be an unattractive option from Mr. Assad's perspective since it is likely that no matter where he goes, he could be legally subject to international tribunal for crimes against humanity.  The situation in Syria remains complex, the killing continues, but the one thing becoming evident is the timing between the U.S. election and a lot of mechanical requirements to launch a far stronger effort to dislodge Assad.  It almost seems as though the election ended and the plans were immediately put into effect.  It could be argued this represents the ability of a second term President to be more decisive in post election actions while using, as he is famous for, the full range of national security options available.

I suspect there will, over the days ahead, be far more lethal aid placed in the hands of the opposition.  It is likely that increased funding will flow, and if this is met with only token resistance from Russia and China, it could pave the way to an end of this ugly and unnecessary violence in Syria.  Even though Iraq and Lebanon may not be wholly supportive of the revolution in Syria, it is highly likely their concerns will tend to remain somewhat muted as the Arab League, NATO, and the GCC now have far greater alignment.  It seems likely there are more backroom deals to be made, and some "front of the house" sabre rattling will be required to add the element of window dressing for the Russians and the Chinese to save face, but the reign of Assad will likely be coming to an end at an accelerated pace.

Of course, the mainstream press does not typically report on other options that have been discussed here and there… options like an extraction operation to take Assad to an international location where he may be placed in the hands of an international tribunal or even the possibility that Assad could meet with a sudden and unfortunate event… certain circles might press for a political "assassination".  My viewpoints on the basket of options available are entirely mute.  I stand in silence as to the best pathway as I prefer to simply try and create a modest assessment of what is taking place.  In my humble opinion, I see the end game close at hand for the current Syrian regime.

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