Unfazed by a civil conflict entering its third year and more than 100,000 Syrians slaughtered, President Bashar Assad is so sure that victory is in the palm of his hand that he has launched a project for refurbishing his public image. The Russian and Iranian advisers who served him so well in the war are assisting him in this project. Arab PR specialists working in Europe have been hired for exorbitant fees to come to Damascus and apply a thick coat of paint over the White House portrayal of Assad on July 23, as “one of the worst tyrants of his era.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on that occasion that the United States and other allies would continue to support the opposition to Assad. “There is no way out of this that doesn’t include a transition to a post-Assad Syria,” he said. “The Syrian people will not stand for it, and the Syrian opposition and the military opposition will continue to resist Assad and resist with the assistance of the United States and many partners and allies in the effort."
According to DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources monitoring the situation in Syria, Carney’s words are belied by the facts in the field. He may believe that 'the Syrian people will not stand for it,' however the reality is different: Rebel fighters and their families are starting to desert and a trickle of several hundred are laying down their arms and returning to their families in their old homes in areas controlled by government forces and security services.
Rebels begin to desert, return home
The deserters’ calculations are simple. Although the war is far from over, the Syrian ruler has won as far as they are concerned because it has become safer to live in the country under the Assad regime than in the refugee camps of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Even areas controlled by government military and security forces are less dangerous than rebel-ruled territory.
In London, The Daily Telegraph reported on the day of the White House comment that growing numbers of rebels, exhausted after more than two years of conflict and feeling that they are losing, are signing up for a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime.
Reading the same signals, rebels’ families are quietly moving to their former homes in government-controlled territory, watching the intensive army push into rebel-held areas from a safe distance.
So confident is the government of a successful outcome of the conflict that it has established a Ministry of Reconciliation for easing the return of former opponents to the regime’s fold.
The minister Ali Haider, explaining his function, said: "Our message is, 'If you really want to defend the Syrian people, lay down your weapons and come to Syria’s defense in the right way, through dialogue."
Just as White House spokesman’s comments were meant to defend President Barack Obama's non-intervention in Syria, The Daily Telegraph item sought to justify British Prime Minister David Cameron's U-turn against the rebels in favor of recognizing that it was time to acknowledge that Assad come out of the conflict the winner and would rule Syria for many years to come.
Assad ready for his first foreign trip and world summit
This situation, which DEBKA Weekly's sources first depicted six months ago in a February issue, was underscored this week when the leaders of the nearly half-a-million Syrian Druzes finally turned down heavy Saudi pressure to throw in their lot with the Syrian rebels.
The Druzes live in 120 villages scattered on the rugged Jebel al-Druze mountain range in the southwest near Syria's borders with Iraq and Jordan. Their support would have been a valuable asset for the rebel movement. But they decided against joining – notwithstanding generous Saudi aid offers in the multimillion dollar range to develop their region, establish a Druze army and provide it with all the weapons required to fight Syrian government forces.
Riyadh also pledged an Israeli Air Force umbrella and backup from the US special forces stationed in Jordan, on the strength of guarantees from Washington and Jerusalem.
Although tempted by the prospect of establishing an autonomous military force as the kernel of an independent Druze state in southern Syria, their leaders turned the offer down. As a result,
the Saudis had to give up on their bid to gain control of southern Syria.
In these circumstances, Assad understandably feels his most urgent task now is to rebuild his image and re-emerge in the guise of Savior of Syria and the only leader capable of bringing about desperately needed national reconciliation.
His PR advisers are now counseling him to prepare for his first foreign trip. A plan is afoot for Assad to travel to Tehran and attend the August 4 swearing-in ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani. Russian President Vladimir Putin may also be there and the occasion could be used for an eye-catching trilateral summit.