After weekend riots in Syria saw more than 100 dead, the highest number of casualties since the beginning of the unrest in the country, President Bashar Assad’s regime seems to be increasingly unstable. The more film clips that leak, documenting the killing of demonstrators, the more questions arise about Assad’s ability to stop the wave of protest against him.
The iron fist policy of the Syrian security forces seems to have failed. Protest is growing gradually stronger and is spreading to other cities, in quite a precise imitation of the successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and of the one that slid into civil war in Libya.
Assad may feel he has no choice. If he does not use the same murderous force against the protesters that his father Hafez Assad used against tens of thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama 30 years ago, he will not survive. But times have changed. There were no cell-phone clips of the massacre at Hama, and the stormy funerals of the protesters only bring more violent clashes and bloodshed.
At Friday demonstrations the Syrian security forces fired indiscriminately at protesters. The film clips posted on the Internet document bursts of gunfire and dozens of injured in most of Syria’s cities. Yesterday’s funerals saw bigger crowds and more victims of the security forces’ fire.
Two members of the Syrian parliament have resigned in response to the rioting, not opposition lawmakers, but rather members of the ruling Ba’ath party. They both hail from Dara’a, the city where the demonstrations against Assad started. They were joined by Dara’a’s mufti, Rizq Abdulrahman Abazeid, who is a government official for all intents and purposes, who announced his resignation on Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera has joined efforts to bring down the regime, broadcasting pictures of the killing of protesters on the outskirts of Damascus, Homs, Dara’a and other places to every home in Syria.
From the Israeli perspective, there is a certain irony in Damascus’ declaring the need to seal Syria’s borders against weapons smuggling by opponents of the regime, as Syria is responsible for much of the weapon-smuggling to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups.
The international community is also gradually joining the condemnation of Assad. President Barack Obama issued a statement over the weekend accusing Iran of helping Assad violently suppress the protesters.
Nevertheless, two factors are still working in Assad’s favor. First, despite the demonstrations on Damascus’ outskirts, the capital itself has seen only one small demonstration so far.
Second, senior army officers are not known to have defected (as happened in Yemen and Libya), and troops are not refusing en masse to fire at demonstrators. But as protests continue, this could change.
Is there a link between the danger to Assad’s rule and recent actions by Hezbollah, which is apparently planning a major attack against an Israeli target abroad? When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq and found himself in trouble internationally, intelligence sources said a provocation against Israel or the United States would come to change the picture.
Assad probably cannot allow himself a similar move right now. A Hezbollah attack could lead to a clash on the northern border. Assad has enough problems without actively participating in creating a new danger of that type.
And yet, the danger of a terror attack was real enough for senior defense officials to call the military correspondents of the three television channels on Thursday, which then opened their main new broadcasts with updated warnings about Hezbollah attacks. The move was probably intended not only to warn Israelis going abroad for the holiday, but also to let Hezbollah know its plans had been uncovered.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah swore to avenge the death of his friend, Imad Mughniyeh, in February 2008. Perhaps despite the dangers of implementing an attack, first and foremost a clash on the northern border at a time inconvenient for both Damascus and Teheran, the pressure on Nasrallah from within his organization to act could be a more significant factor.
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