10 December 2012

Middle East to Become an EVEN MORE Convoluted Mess as Syria Splits Into
3 or 4 Mini-States that Despise Each Other

The Assad regime in Syria is getting weaker by the day as FSA rebels continue to gain ground- they've already pretty much surrounded the capital in preparation for an all-out assault that will finally unseat Bashir Assad. But like most things over there, nothing's simple...

With the Free Syrian Army (FSA) infested with Al Qaeda types and Syria deeply divided along sectarian/religious-sect lines, chances of anybody establishing hegemony over the entire country and creating a tolerant, functioning democracy of any sort are not so good.

Yet while Assad's now-fading forces are still heavily armed with missiles, fighter aircraft, and even biological and chemical weapons, they also have zero chance of ever controlling the country again... and are unlikely to even hold on to the capital for much longer. Everybody -including the Alawite-dominated regime- knows this.

Alas, the latest word out of Syria has Bashir Assad not really even running the country anymore, rather he's locked-away in his mountaintop presidential palace overlooking towers of smoke pouring from Damascus suburbs now engulfed in battle to the north, east, and south of the city.

Presidential palace on Mt Qassioun

In the meantime, the country's top officials and army officers have formed an Alawite-dominated security council to manage the war and -now it appears- slowly extract officials, their families, and as many regime assets as possible so as to relocate them in the mountainous Alawi areas in the north-west of the country- all perhaps in preparation for a new Alawite mini-state north of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast . Besides reports of such northern movements, the Assad regime has engaged in what looks one helluva lot like ethnic cleansing on the Alawite heartland's perimeter in preparation for such a state, which would conveniently contain -and maintain- the prized Russian naval base at Tartous.

Although not easy to create nor defend, Assad's tribe at this point have few options left but to turn their ancestral homeland into a heavily-defended enclave. An Alawite statelet even has historical precedent.: the French established one there as a 'mandate territory' from 1920-1946...

'More and more regime supporters and, or their families are moving up the coast, and there are persistent rumors that at least part of the government now sits in Tartous' ... 'All indications are that the regime’s fallback position is to retreat to the coastal area of ​​Tartous and Latakia.' 

Significantly, FSA units operating north of Damascus appear to be limiting ambushes to south-bound military traffic heading to the capital along the main highway... an escape route for the regime to prevent a protracted and bloody last stand in Damascus...

'The Alawite community … is counting on [Assad’s] army to protect them from possible retribution from the rebel militias' writes Joshua Landis, professor of Middle East history at the University of Oklahoma and author of the influential Syria Comment blog.

'Sectarian hatred has been driven to a fever pitch by the brutality of the regime. Syrians have been putting hate into their hearts over the past two years, making the likelihood of some sort of retribution ever more likely and the ethnic cleansing a possibility, even if a small one at the time.'

A rump regime well-entrenched into the mountain villages defended by the Alawite core of the army and security services equipped with armor, artillery, air power and possibly even chemical and biological weapons could buy the Assads some breathing space during a likely period of chaos caused by a sudden leadership vacuum in Damascus...

Those expecting Bashir Assad to head off to Russia -where his wife is said to be holed-up with the kids- and then for some sort of democracy to bloom in Syria have not studied the nature of the conflict sufficiently: it's not just him and a few henchmen, almost the entire Alawite sect of 2.6M would be brutally punished
-or even slaughtered- for their decades of oppressive control/privilege in Syria. One should expect anything in retribution up-to and including genocide, as hundreds of Alawite army officers have the blood of innocents on their hands, and have reportedly already deployed chemical weapons against civilian targets... does anybody really think a new Islamist government is going to grant any of them immunity?

Then there's the many steroid-bloated, 100% Alawite paramilitary thugs known as Shabiha -or 'ghosts'- who have terrified the civilian population, slaughtered Sunni villagers in cold blood, and even fought alongside regular Syrian security forces. Many of the crimes committed while doing the Alawite-dominated regime's dirty work are truly unforgivable: since the country is now run by an Alawi security council -not just a single dictator/small band of advisers- to me it's become less likely all these loyal brothers could be abandoned to a new Sunni regime in Damascus while Assad and an elite clique bail for safety abroad.

fwiw, Bashir Assad just last week vowed to
'live and die in Syria': if so, seems like attempting to create an Alawite enclave -even if ultimately futile- would have to be preferable to being executed promptly by a victorious FSA.


Other Syrian regions unlikely to be keen on living in an oppressive, Sunni-dominated caliphate would be the Kurds in the north-east and Druse down south, who can expect help and support from fellow Druse/Kurds just on the other side of the border.

In all likelihood the Syrian Alawite ruling class will retreat to their ancestral homeland and dig-in as best they can, rather than Assad and Co. making a dash overseas to Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, or whatever. With so many complicit -or perceived to be- most Alawites cannot afford to be at the mercy of Sunni vengeance in a lawless country full of zealots, where even
guilt-by-association will qualify for an instant death-ticket.