Turkey's Erdogan Holds Assad's Fate in His Hands

Syrian protesters and army defectors can only dent Assad's iron hold on the country, unless, that is, Turkey continues to silently sponsor his opponents.

It's been eight months of bloody crackdowns, and Bashar Assad is still standing. NATO, the Arab League, and the United Nations would never confront him, whether his men continue to slaughter dozens of civilians every day, or not. He is flanked by Iran and Hezbollah, with Russia and China continuing to back him up diplomatically.

Even the defections from his military and the rebellions within it have yet to endanger Assad's rule, and will continue to fail as long as the Alwai top brass remains loyal to the president. As of now, they have no one else to be loyal to.

Assad Erdogan- AP- Oct. 11, 2010

But, it appears that Assad has one weak point, one to which his adversaries are aiming for with a pointed dagger. The one man holding Assad's future in his hands is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose soldiers have in the last four months, silently and surely, created a buffer zone between the two countries.

Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry invited global media outlets to hold interviews with Colonel Riad al-Assad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, an organization that has already began targeting Syrian forces along the Turkey-Syria border, and that includes many army defectors.

The Free Syrian Army cannot threaten the Assad regime in any real way, but, with Turkish backing, it has begun to expand a limited enclave along the northern part of the border.

Syria map

Meanwhile, the bloody confrontations between Assad's military and Syrian protesters – protesters who are gradually morphing into armed rebels – have been concentrated in three cities: Idlib, Hama, and Homs in northwestern Syria.

Notice the map. Those three cities are perpendicular to the border with Turkey in the north, and serve as the axis around which a rebel stronghold may be formed in the coming weeks and months.

If Turkey continues to sponsor these activities, Syria will find it very difficult to retake that area. And if that line stabilizes, it will soon turn into a wedge that will sever Syria from its only seaports in Latakia and Tartus. That would pose as a strategic threat to Assad's rule.

Just as the rebellion in Libya began in earnest when the rebels took over Benghazi, so will the fall of Itlib, Hama, and Homs mark the end of the Assad line. It all depends on Erdogan's will.