The “Arab Spring” arrived in Damascus with a vengeance this week—despite the brutal repression meted out by the Assad regime.
Today, the Syrian defense minister was assassinated in a suicide bombing at the national security headquarters building in the capital. CNN reported that the explosion was caused by a car bomb, while the BBC reported that the bomb was placed by a trusted bodyguard.
Either way, the regime’s internal security has been compromised in a psychologically devastating manner. Initial reports suggest that Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, a key figure within the regime, also perished. The bombing came as Syrian opposition forces launched an offensive that triggered the most intense fighting to date in Damascus, another sign of growing rebel strength.
Assad has also been weakened by a string of high-level defections, particularly Sunni Muslim officials within his Alawite-dominated regime.
One of the most prominent defectors, the former Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares, warned that the Assad regime would not hesitate to use chemical weapons to preserve its power. Syria has one of the largest chemical weapon arsenals in the world and reportedly moved some of the munitions out of storage depots last week.
The fall of the Assad regime increasingly looks like only a matter of time. Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Aviv Kochavi yesterday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the regime cannot defeat the growing insurgency and that it may survive for anywhere between two months to a little more than two years.
Russia, which has backed the Assad regime to the hilt, rejects this analysis and continues to prop up the regime. Moscow has resisted Western and Arab efforts to escalate pressure on the Assad regime through sanctions or the possible use of force. It continues to push for an extension of the U.N. observer force in Syria while blocking Western efforts to attach a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatens further sanctions if the Syrian government does not withdraw its troops to their barracks and stop using heavy weapons against civilians within 10 days.
Thanks to Moscow’s threat to use its veto for the third time to block U.N. action on the Syrian crisis, the U.N. and the Obama Administration’s soft-headed soft power diplomatic strategy for resolving the crisis are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the situation on the ground inside Syria.