Defections reflect doubts among Assad loyalists (JERUSALEM POST) By JONATHAN SPYER 06/26/12)
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The defection this week of a Syrian general, five other officers and
33 soldiers to Turkey represents the latest setback to the
beleaguered regime of Bashar Assad in Damascus.
This brings the number of generals who have deserted Assadís cause to
13 Ė in addition to thousands of rank-and-file soldiers and more
Three Syrian pilots also defected to Jordan on Sunday.
These latest losses to the Syrian dictator are of course not decisive
in themselves. But they add to the general picture in which the
regime, while still defiant, is visibly running out of ideas.
It is doubling down on the only strategy available to it Ė increasing
the pitch and the brutality of its attempt to crush the rebellion by
force. This strategy is succeeding in creating an ever-larger body
count. But it is showing no signs of stopping the rebellion. This in
turn is leading toward growing disillusionment among the remaining
Reliable estimates now suggest that the Syrian rebels have around
40,000 fighters available to them. This is a significant force,
though one still concentrated in particular areas of the country.
By comparison, the Muslim Brotherhood uprising that Assadís father
crushed in Hama in 1982 never had more than around 4,000 insurgents
under its banner.
Assad officially controls an army of just over 200,000 men.
But only some of them are sufficiently trusted to be engaged against
The Syrian rebels, having begun as an uprising against the recognized
authorities, are beginning to look more like a rival center of power
in the country. The latest defections are evidence that this is
becoming apparent to a growing number of Assadís men.
Many aspects are coming together to create this impression.
First, the rebels are in de facto control of a growing swathe of
Syrian territory. This is despite the determined and bloody counter-
offensive that the regime launched in March, in an attempt to
reconquer areas under rebel control.
The Assad regime still has the capability to conquer and control any
specific point in Syria.
But it does not possess sufficient loyal forces to simultaneously
occupy and control all areas of support for the insurgency.
Assad controls the cities and main highways throughout Syria. But in
a large part of the north, his troops no longer venture far into the
The area between Aleppo and Idlib cities is now effectively under
rebel control. A second ďsafe zoneĒ stretching from the Turkish
border down to the outskirts of Hama is in the hands of the
rebellion. Smaller rebel-controlled zones in Deraa governate, north
and south of Homs city and in the Zabadani area near Lebanon have
also been carved out.
Second, the rebels are able to call on more sophisticated weaponry,
which is making its way across the border from Turkey, financed by
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and coordinated with Turkish and possibly
also US help.
These increased capabilities are making a difference. Improvised
explosive devices are being used to harass Assadís forces, and
photographic evidence has emerged of destroyed tanks in the north of
the country. The death toll among loyalist forces is growing.
Increasingly, Assad prefers to use artillery and attack helicopters
rather than armor and infantry.
This is an indication of declining manpower and perhaps also reduced
trust on the part of the regime in its own foot soldiers.
Third, the Assad regimeís downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet last
week threatens to bring down retribution. The Turks have called for a
meeting of NATO countries under article 4 of the NATO charter, set to
take place this week.
The Assad regime will be waiting to see if the downing of the
aircraft proves to be the factor that finally precipitates more
determined and overt international action against it. Turkey has
proven unwilling to act alone, however, so this will depend on the
views of other member states that have displayed marked reluctance
toward stronger measures.
In any case, fear of this possibility also forms a background to the
growing jitters among larger numbers of Assadís men and growing
numbers of Assadís troops. Thirty-nine such men, including a general,
made their way with their families from northern Syria to Hatay
province in Turkey this week as a result of these doubts. More are
likely to follow. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 06/26/12)
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