On Wednesday, June 15, 100,000 demonstrators marched in Damascus in support of President Bashar Assad's regime, carrying what was claimed to be the world's longest national flag – 2.3 kilometers long. Security personnel were thin on the ground signaling the ruler's trust in the loyalty of his capital's inhabitants.
Later, Assad commented to his associates that this rally marked the breaking point of the opposition and proof of his success in vanquishing it, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report. Now, he felt he could sit down and compose his victory speech to be delivered in the coming few days.
Our sources recall that this is not the first time Assad has worked on a victory speech. He was all set to deliver his first triumphant oration when, on June 3, the northern town of Hama exploded in a massive pro-Muslim demonstration, rekindling protest outbreaks in the north. That speech was never delivered.
This time, Assad's confident assessment is supported by a consensus among the intelligence agencies monitoring Syrian unrest – Americans, Turks, Israelis and Syrian opposition leaders – with one difference: They see the turning-point in the contest between the regime and protesters as having occurred before the pro-Assad demonstration in Damascus, forged in the brutal military campaign launched June 12 in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour by the Turkish border.
Assad's success leaves Syrian economy broke
It was there, say our military sources, that the Syrian ruler's decision to bet on the army for crushing the revolt rather than his security and intelligence services paid off. This victory also made the Syrian president's younger brother, Gen. Maher Assad, who continually urged Bashar to entrust the uprising to the army, the most powerful man in Syria.
Western intelligence agencies have no reliable data on the cost to the Syrian exchequer of crushing the countrywide revolt, but it must be assumed to be very heavy: Some 70,000-100,000 security personnel are on a round-the-clock state of alert, dependent on logistical support for keeping thousands of vehicles and hundreds of tanks almost constantly on the move from one trouble spot to another.
The daily expenditure on the crackdown is roughly estimated at $2-3 million (compared with Muammar Qaddafi's outlay of close to $4 million per day for fighting NATO) and spiraling upward.
Wednesday, June 15, the Syrian army began deploying along the Syrian-Turkish border (870 kilometers) and the Syrian-Iraqi border (600 kilometers) to seal off the exits to the stream of fleeing Syrian refugees and smuggling operations from those two neighbors.
This deployment is extremely expensive. Calling for numerous mobile units spread over a large area and backed by air and helicopter reconnaissance planes, it could add another $1 million to Syra's daily bill for suppressing disaffection.
West could have cut off his war funding by an oil embargo – but didn't
Therefore, Western intelligence and financial experts familiar with the Syrian scene were highly skeptical when Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jleilati insisted last week that the economy was "strong and healthy" – especially when he said Syria was self-reliant in food and had amassed foreign currency reserves worth $18 billion.
Some figures tell a different story: Syrian industrial output has declined by 50 percent in the 4 months of the uprising. The tourism industry, a key source of revenue, has collapsed, leaving hotels in Damascus and other tourist centers empty.
Had the US and Europe really wanted to hasten Bashar Assad's fall and deny him access to war funds, they could have done so by an embargo on the export of Syrian oil, which accounts for $7-8 million in income per day. Their failure to enforce this step is further evidence that US President Barack Obama has not decided that it is time for Bashar Assad to go. US official condemnations of his savage crackdown of protest have never referred to the Syrian president by name. Administration spokesmen have also been instructed not to raise the question of an oil embargo for the time being.
Who would lend Assad money?
Even so, the assessment in the West is that by the fall, in September or October, just a few months from now, Damascus could run out of money for holding down the lingering revolt against his regime. He will then have two options – to print money and catapult Syria into hyperinflation or to borrow from outside lenders – except that no volunteer creditors are immediately in sight. It is hard to imagine the super-moneyed Saudis, who have sunk at least $2 billion in promoting the anti-Assad protest movement, suddenly turning round with an offer to lend him money or raise assistance from their Gulf allies.
Turkey might conceivably be willing to come to Assad's aid, but only if the Syrian ruler is ready to bow to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's demands for political reforms that would ultimately bring opposition parties into government in Damascus.
Even if the Syrian ruler has managed to reach a turning-point against the revolt, he will still need plenty of cash to rebuild and restore the security services which prop up his regime.