In an interview with the BBC’s Weekend World Today, Faisal al-Qudsi, a leading Syrian businessman, has said that, largely thanks to western sanctions, the Syrian government has only the resources left to fight the rebels for another six months, ‘the army is getting tired and will go nowhere’ he said.
What this means for the people is not sure. Even if it is so that Assad’s regime only have six months left to fight it is what happens in these months and how they will negotiate the changing circumstance that will be of concern.
Recent reports have suggested that to tackle this growing realisation security forces are preparing for a ground assault in Homs, the leading rebel stronghold and are reluctant to show any sign of weakness. This combined with renewed attacks on mourners taking place in Damascus suggest the security forces will attempt to crack the opposition before their funds run dry and having to relay on negotiations or the threat of a rebellion that has equal or greater strength and financial support.
The changing makeup of the rebel forces will put pressure on the west to act decisively before this plays out.
No doubt the rebels have become disillusioned by the high rhetoric tacking place in the UN with no action to support these words and, though western sanction are taking there toll on the Syrian forces, this will mean little to the people who have lost numerous relatives and loved ones as well as the rebel forces who have lost thousands of their fellow fighters. Reports suggest they have been taking support from other sources that are able to take more decisive action.
In recent weeks Al Qaeda have become increasingly involved in the conflict. Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the radical organisation since the death of Osama Bin Laden, has vocally supported the uprising. “If we want freedom, we must be liberated from this regime. If we want justice we must retaliate against this regime,” he said in a video message addressing Al Qaeda supporters. This message was supported by two blasts, largely thought to be the responsibility of al-Qaeda, in Damascus that killed forty-four and reports of armed fighters and weapons crossing into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon.
The involvement of al-Qaeda will make the possibility of intervention that much murkier for the western states as the war on terror enters its eleventh year and a $25m dollar US bounty remains on al-Zawahiri’s head.
It is also the manner in which al-Zawahiri words his statement of support that will be of great concern. “This regime” although directly referring to the Ba’ath party, Assad, and the security forces, are also likely to be referring more greatly to those who stand in the way of the global jihad which has long be the centre-point of al-Qaeda policy.
The fight has quickly fallen into the hands of the Sunni’s. With a 74% majority in Syria it seems appropriate that a civil war may be fought along these lines with the ruling Ba’ath party representing a minority Alawi minority who along with Twelvers, and Ismailis represent a 12% Shia population (the other 14% being Druze, Christian, and other minority religious groups). Many of the areas fallen under rebel control are those with a majority Sunni population as have been the majority of the fighters who left the armed forced to create a large majority of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Many of the minority sects who originally supported the uprising have become by the violence. Whilst the Ba’ath regime respects secularism and allows a degree of religious freedom which is unprecedented in the region, it is becoming clear to these groups that the same may not be true of a country ran by a majority Sunni government. Increasingly radicalised by anti-Shia rhetoric coming from Saudi Arabia and the arming of the security forces by the strictly Shia Iran is leading to a Sunni uprising mirroring the origins of the al-Qaeda formation during the Islamic Jihad of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Syrian regime currently stands at a crossroads: break the rebels before the money runs out or to negotiate a settlement before the battle is lost. Unfortunately it seems for the west their crossroads may already be passed without realising its existence.
With early support the west may have been able to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Syrian people and negotiate a peaceful settlement much like Yugoslavia in the late 90s and Bosnia half a decade before. In Syria it is increasingly clear we may have passed this stage and fear we may be leading to one of two worse case scenarios. First, the rebels win, possibly creating one more state in the Middle East run by religious principles and replacing the rarity of a sectarian state or, secondly, the security forces suppress the rebellion, the Ba’ath party remain in control with some minor constitutional changes, and a potentially more hostile Sunni population who’s core is more conservative, members more militarised, and ethos more hostile to the west.
It is not too late for the west to act but thinks must not be allowed to play out by themselves with the result with more lives lost and the battle continuing in the form of minor skirmishes and a fractured state. Proposals to create a kill free zone in the northwest border with Turkey will allow the rebels to properly organise themselves and create proper networks in order for the west to provide meaningful support.
Originally poster on The Grapevine