Is the collapse of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad imminent? Media outlets across the world were filled with the query when reports surfaced that rebels have launched an all-out offensive in Damascus and the whereabouts of Assad are unknown.
In a devastating blow to Assad’s inner circle last week, a blast during a high-level security meeting at the National Security building right in the heart of Damascus claimed the lives of the Syrian President’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, national security chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar, defence minister Dawoud Rajha and Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister.
Rebels later claimed responsibility for the attack, hailing it as "the beginning of the end". Insurgents have aptly named the operation as `Damascus Volcano and Syrian Earthquake`. Their reach to the national security headquarters indicated that a crucial battle to wrest the city from the clasp of Bashar al-Assad had begun.
A report in fact said that the attack pushed the Syrian President to call Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, in charge of the UN observer mission in Syria, to implement a UN peace plan if the West could convince rebels to halt their attacks.
Moreover, the absence of the Syrian President on state TV until the following day fuelled speculation that the leader might have been injured and left the capital Damascus. Reports also claimed that Assad’s wife, Asma, has fled Syria and travelled to Russia. Aren’t such rumours familiar; remember we heard such stories in the final days of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
So, are the days of the Syrian regime numbered?
Syria is an important country to be observed, not just because of humanitarian reasons, but also due to its geopolitical significance.
The United States is no more in Iraq, and undoubtedly Iran is trying to play a pivotal role in the Middle East. If the Assad government falls, Shi’ite Iran will lose its most valued ally in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, which openly backs arming Syrian rebels, and other Sunni Arab states will easily counter Iran’s influence in the region.
Also, Assad regime’s fall will mean that Lebanon’s Hezbollah party would lose one of its main sources of weapons. In fact, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quick to offer condolences for the deaths of the high-ranking Syrian officials killed in Damascus last week.
“These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said in a televised address.
Nasrallah further said that the Syrian government was the reason behind Hezbollah’s victory against Israel in the 2006 war. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria...The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”
The Hezbollah leader’s statement reflects how important the Syrian regime is for the group.
Also, Russia backs the Syrian regime for enjoying access to the Mediterranean Sea. The say Moscow enjoys in Damascus further gives it weight vis-à-vis the West.
Experts say that Assad could still be able to maintain his family`s 42-year-grip on power in Syria, fighting a sectarian civil war that could last months or even years.
Syrians are dying every day. The death toll in Syria has reportedly risen to over 19,000 since the uprising began in March 2011. The revolution Syrians are leading is bloodier and longer than anybody could have thought when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak succumbed to people’s thirst for freedom after just 18 days.
The rebel groups, despite fierce resistance, seem to be in no mood to give up. Continuous fighting in Damascus between rebels and security forces presents an unprecedented challenge to the Assad regime in the tightly-controlled capital. But what will follow in Syria is unclear.