Syria - AFP - 1.5.12
Property damaged by blasts in northwest Syria earlier this month. Photo by AFP
Text size
related tags

The recent events over the past week in Syria, particularly in Damascus, spell more bad news for President Bashar Assad, who is already facing a significantly ominous situation.

On Tuesday, Military Intelligence Chief Major General Aviv Kochavi spoke at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but was careful about assessing when Assad's regime may collapse.

Various commentators have already been proved wrong about this issue – several times – but for those who are watching from Washington, London and even Jerusalem, the situation unfolding in Syria underscores the fact that the violence between Assad's army and relatively large rebel forces point to a significant deterioration.

The Syrian president can feel the ground shaking under his feet. Nawah al-Fares, the Syrian ambassador in Iraq who recently defected, estimated that with his back against the wall, Assad would use chemical weapons against the rebels. The West sees this as a reasonable scenario. And despite the terrible repercussions such a move may have on other places, it is doubtful that Assad will refrain from taking that step if he comes to the conclusion that it is an effective maneuver.

The gravity of the situation is not only reflected by the rising number of casualties – 500 to 700 a week – it also points to the fact that Assad is gradually losing control over his country, which is getting close to a "failed state" status.

Bashar's control is not only weakening in remote areas – where there have been no regular electricity supply, health or sanitation services – but also in parts of Damascus itself. Gun-battles in the capital are harder to hide from the global media.

The rebels who have been fighting in recent days seem more organized and better equipped than before. This is one reason why the regime has began attacking them from the air, using helicopters alongside artillery fire aimed at civilian neighborhoods.

The Alawite regime has several other causes for concern: A series of defections by major officials (an ambassador, generals, and a MiG-21 fighter who flew to Jordan); an estimated 13 thousand troops who have defected so far; and what appears to be waning Russian support for Assad.

The escalating conflicts also draw a growing and open support by Iran and Hezbollah. The presence of Hezbollah operatives is as visible as ever – even in strategic, secret sites like missile bases which were once secret assets of the regime.

On the other hand, extreme Sunni organizations inspired by Al-Qaeda are also showing more involvement. These are groups who the Israeli intelligence establishment describes as "global jihad" movements. An increasing number of terrorists are leaving the old Iraqi theater and moving west to take part in the downfall of the Alawite regime, which they detest.

From an Israeli point of view, this is also a cause for concern, since these operatives' presence in south Syria, alongside a weakening Syrian handling of what goes on the Golan border, may also lead to terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in the Golan Heights.