About Us

IMRA
IMRA
IMRA

 

Subscribe

Search


...................................................................................................................................................


Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Day After Scenario in Syria

The “Day After” Scenario in Syria
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, December 18, 2012
Vol. 12, No. 30 18 December 2012
http://jcpa.org/article/the-day-after-scenario-in-syria/

- The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. Bashar Assad’s regime is
fighting a rearguard battle and has already lost control over large parts of
the country. Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted in an
interview in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar on December 17 that he did not
believe that the Syrian army could win the present confrontation.

- It is unlikely that Assad’s regime believes the use of chemical weapons
can restore the previous situation in Syria. It appears probable that the
regime will instead seek to transfer most of the surviving loyal forces and
strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the Alawite enclave in the west
of the country to serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political
card for ensuring the Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.

- While the U.S. and other Western countries have recognized the Syrian
National Coalition as the sole and exclusive representative of the Syrian
people, the rebel forces regard the new leadership as having been imposed on
them, and are prepared at most to accept it as a temporary actor that can
mobilize the international support needed to complete the endeavor of
toppling the regime.

- In actuality, the dominant forces in Syria are the military frameworks
that have waged the campaign against the regime since March 2011. The
overwhelming majority, if not all, espouse an Islamist, jihadist, Salafist
outlook.

- The full backing of the fighting forces for Jahbat al-Nusra, a branch of
al-Qaeda, against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future
direction of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as
the main basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime.

- After overthrowing the Assad regime, a potential military-terrorist threat
to Israel will likely emerge in the transition period, which will be marked
by governmental instability and a lack of central control over at least some
of the fighting forces.

Assad Regime Fighting a Rearguard Battle

The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the
Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president,
Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian
rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and
the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”

The rebel forces, led by allied jihadist groups, have the upper hand on the
battlefield, and scored significant achievements when they took over a large
military base in Aleppo well stocked with weapons and ammunition,1 and later
in fierce fighting in communities surrounding the capital city of Damascus
including the Yarmouk Palstinian refugee camp. The Free Syrian Army is now
claiming to have gained control of most of the air defense bases in the
Damascus Governate.2

Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting a rearguard battle and has already lost
control over large parts of the country, which are still being subjected to
aerial and artillery attacks by Syrian army forces still loyal to the
regime.3 Assad continues to draw his strength from the Alawite community,
which forms the backbone of the army, and from the political, military, and
economic assistance he receives from Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah. The
latter two have also sent forces to help with the fighting both in advisory
and operational capacities.

The sense that the end is approaching was expressed by Russian deputy
foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who acknowledged that Assad’s regime is
losing control of the country and a rebel takeover may be imminent. While
Russia has not changed its policy on the official level, it too appears
prepared to safeguard its interests should the regime collapse.

A political turning point occurred when the United States recognized the
Syrian National Coalition as the sole and exclusive representative of the
Syrian people. The U.S. and other Western countries, as well as the bloc of
Arab and Muslim states that support the rebels, have an interest in building
up a national leadership that can unite the rebel forces under its command
and serve as a legitimate temporary government, thereby ensuring a stable
transition period and the continued geographic and governmental coherence of
Syria.

Implications of the Final Stage

With the Syrian crisis entering its final stage, what follows are the main
implications.

To begin with, Assad’s regime has long since lost its legitimacy to rule,
and at most can survive for a further period through the growing use of
firepower that is meant to inflict large-scale casualties among the rebels
and the civilian population that supports them.

The rebels’ takeover of large parts of Aleppo will likely precipitate a
final collapse of the army’s rule in the area. This will add momentum to
similar processes in northern Syria, further enabling the mobilization and
organization of forces for the decisive battle in Damascus – if the campaign
being waged at present does not achieve a breakthrough.

In attacking rebel forces and the Syrian population, the Syrian army has
seen fit to use all the weapons in its arsenal except for chemical weapons.
Strong messages on this issue from the United States and other Western
countries, indicating that the use of such weapons will prompt Western
military intervention expressly aimed at toppling the regime, have acted as
a deterrent.

It is unlikely under the prevailing circumstances that Assad’s regime
believes the use of chemical weapons can restore the previous situation in
Syria, even if very heavy losses are inflicted on the civilian population.
It appears probable that, should Damascus soon fall into rebel hands, the
regime will instead seek to transfer most of the surviving loyal forces and
strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the area of the Alawite enclave
in the west of the country. These weapons would then serve as a deterrent to
acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the Alawite community’s
status in a future Syrian order.

The Syrian National Coalition has indeed won international recognition and
projects a moderate image for the Syrian opposition. The reality, however,
is much more complex. The rebel forces regard the new leadership of the
opposition as having been imposed on them, and are prepared at most to
accept it as a temporary actor that can mobilize the international support
needed to complete the endeavor of toppling the regime.

The Dominant Forces in Syria

In actuality, the dominant forces in Syria are the military frameworks that
have waged the campaign against the regime since the revolution erupted in
March 2011. These military frameworks, which enjoy great popular support,
will likely demand their part in the new government and make their imprint
on the shaping of the new Syria.

An analysis of the fighting forces’ ideological underpinnings shows that the
overwhelming majority, if not all, espouse an Islamist, jihadist, Salafist
outlook at different degrees of fervor. Their common denominator is a desire
to establish a new Syria that is ruled by the Sunni Muslim majority and
defines itself first and foremost as an Islamic state.

The Jahbat al-Nusra organization, which is identified with the Iraqi branch
of al-Qaeda, is considered one of the most powerful forces among the rebels
and enjoys extensive popular sympathy both because of its battlefield
achievements and the aid it provides to the population. A few days after the
United States decided to add it to the list of terrorist organizations,
there were mass demonstrations of support for the organization in Syria in
the name of all the fighting forces, under the banner: “There Is No Terror
in Syria But Assad’s Terror.” Despite its international connections, even
the Syrian National Coalition rejected the U.S. decision to classify Jabhat
al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. This full backing for a branch of
al-Qaeda against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future direction
of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as the main
basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime.

Under the surface in Syria, two major Islamic forces are active: the Muslim
Brotherhood via Turkey, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for the immediate
creation of an Islamic caliphate. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood has no
fighting forces acting under its name. According to testimonies, however,
some of the semi-military frameworks set up over the past two years are
identified with the movement, and it controls numerous sources of financial
aid from the Gulf states and thereby wields influence among the rebel
forces. The Brotherhood is likely to take a higher profile after the
revolution achieves its ends, and to strive, with the help of Turkey and
Egypt, to unite all the Islamic factions under its leadership.

The overriding goal of the new regime, with Turkey’s support, will be to
maintain Syria’s geographic coherence and prevent its division on an
ethnic/religious (Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, and Druze) basis. So far the
rebel forces, except for specific acts of vengeance, have avoided massacres
of the Alawite population. They want to leave an escape hatch for Alawite
officers and soldiers who will encourage others to desert, thereby hastening
the army’s collapse. Such restraint will not necessarily remain after the
regime collapses, with not a few voices among the rebels already calling for
retribution. One possible solution for the new situation is an eventual
Syrian federation that would extend limited autonomous rights to the
minority groups.

The revolution in Syria has greatly depleted the Syrian army. The rebel
forces, for their part, are hostile to Israel and reiterate calls to extend
the jihad from Damascus to the liberation of Jerusalem. At present all their
resources are directed at overthrowing the Assad regime. After that is
accomplished, a potential military-terrorist threat to Israel will likely
emerge in the transition period, which will be marked by governmental
instability and a lack of central control over at least some of the fighting
forces. The jihadist forces in Syria have taken over the Syrian military’s
stocks of weapons, like in the Libyan case after the fall of Gaddafi. This
could pose a serious security challenge to Western interests in the future.

A Blow to Iran

The fall of Assad, Tehran’s close ally, will be a harsh blow to Iran’s
interests in the Middle East and could cause further shockwaves that weaken
Iran’s influence even more. That pertains particularly to the Lebanese
arena, where the Sunni Islamist forces are already organizing for the day
after Assad’s fall in a push to alter Lebanon’s political and military
balance of power, in which Hizbullah is now dominant. The collapse of the
Syrian hinterland will likely spark violent clashes that could escalate to a
civil war in Lebanon between the radical Sunni forces and Hizbullah. In
Iraq, which has been under increasing Iranian domination after the U.S.
withdrawal, Iraqi Sunnis will likely look to their Sunni allies in a
post-Assad Syria in order to renew the insurgency campaign against the
Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

At present the rebel forces view Iran, Russia, and China as partners in
crime for fully backing the Assad regime. It is, however, undoubtedly
possible that ties with them will be rehabilitated in the longer term.
Russia has a major interest in maintaining its influence in Syria, and will
likely play the card of banishment of Assad and his comrades in trying to
pave a path to the rebels’ hearts. Although the animosity toward Iran has an
ideological basis, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown that it ascribed supreme
strategic importance to relations with Iran even while massacres were being
perpetrated in Syria; the common interest is to counter Western influence in
the Middle East and build a front against Israel. These considerations are
likely to guide the new regime in Damascus.

The Power Centers in the Rebel Camp

Jahbat al-Nusra La’al al-Sham (the Assistance Front to the Residents of
Greater Syria) is an Islamic organization identified with al-Qaeda and under
the command of Muhammad al-Julani. Over the past year it has extended both
its ranks and the scope of its activity, which includes suicide bombings.
The United States aims to include it in the list of terrorist organizations.

The Sukur al-Sham Brigade (Hawks of Greater Syria) is an Islamic
organization under the command of Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh, mainly active in
northern Syria. It operates in a hierarchical, unified military structure
with nine battalions active in different areas.

The Ahrar al-Sham Battalions (Freemen of Greater Syria) is a Salafist
Islamic organization operating in northern Syria, in the region of Damascus
and its surrounding villages, and in the south. Its declared goal is to
implement shari’a law in Syria.

The Al-Tawhid Brigade (Uniqueness of Allah) is an Islamic organization under
the command of Abd al-Kadr al-Salah. It is active mainly in the Aleppo area
and is identified with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tamoah Ansar al-Islam (Union of Supporters of Islam) is a Salafist Islamic
organization that calls for the establishment of a caliphate. Formed in
August 2012, it unites under its aegis armed groups that are mainly active
in the Damascus area.

The Al-Farouk Brigades is a Salafist Islamic organization active in northern
and central Syria.

Two umbrella organizations for coordinating among the fighting forces were
set up last year in Syria: the Rebel Front in Syria and the Front for the
Liberation of Syria. These are dominant among the Islamic organizations.

At the start of December 2012, a joint military leadership for the rebel
forces was set up under the command of Brig.-Gen. Salim Idris. Five areas of
command were created under the new military leadership’s control. Its
declared ideological line includes an Islamic Syrian identity and upholding
human and minority rights. But not all the rebel forces accept the new
military leadership’s authority.
* * *

Notes

1. “Jihadist Rivalry with Mainstream Syria Rebels Intensifies,” AFP, Dec.
16, 2012.

2. Nazeer Rida, “FSA Targeting al-Assad Regime Airbases-Sources,” Asharq
Al-Awsat, Dec. 7, 2012.

3. Rima Marrouch, “Syrian Rebels Gaining Ground Against Assad’s Air Power,”
Los Angeles Times, Dec. 11, 2012.

================================
About Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East
and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a
co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the
Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Search For An Article
....................................................................................................

Contact Us

POB 982 Kfar Sava
Tel 972-9-7604719
Fax 972-3-7255730
email:imra@netvision.net.il IMRA is now also on Twitter
http://twitter.com/IMRA_UPDATES

image004.jpg (8687 bytes)