The harsh note of triumphalism in Bashar Assad’s speech in Damascus Sunday, Jan. 6 – twenty-two months into his savage war against the revolt against his regime – stirred the US State Department into commenting that the Syrian ruler was “detached from reality.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources touch on the latest events shaping Syrian reality:
1. On Dec. 21, 2012, President Barack Obama ordered the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group to depart their stations opposite Syria. No US military personnel now remain in the region for possible intervention in Syria, excepting only a small group of American troops who arrived in Turkey last week to man the two US Patriot missiles installed on its Syrian border.
Assad can therefore breathe easy. He is no longer in peril of the fate visited on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi by NATO and US forces.
2. President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary and John Brennan as CIA Director has made American or Western military intervention in Syria unrealistic – at least in the first two years of his second term as president. So on this score, too, Assad may feel safe until the end of 2014 – barring unforeseen extreme changes in the situation.
Turkey and Israel retreat to defensive posture on Syria
3. The rebels’ supply of Western and Arab weapons, especially from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has practically dried up and pledges of advanced anti-air and anti-tank systems have not been met. In December, they were let down by two anchors, the Friends of Syria and the UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. By early January, Syrian rebel commanders had put two and two together and realized there was as little hope of their obtaining adequate arms for fighting Assad’s army as of fulfilling promises given them of a political future.
4. Catching on to these developments, the Turkish and Israeli security directors, the MIT’s Hakan Fidan and the Mossad’s Tamir Pardo, advised their two prime ministers, Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, to drop any offensive plans they may have entertained for Syria and adopt a defense stance.
Turkey accordingly planted the six NATO Patriot missile batteries stationed on its border with Syria in defensive array, although they were first projected to facilitate the imposition of protected buffer strips and no-fly zones over Syria. After US warships exited Syria waters, Ankara dropped its plans to provide Syrian insurgent fighters with air cover against Syrian air force bombardments.
This week, Turkey focused on salvaging from the ruined Western-Muslim anti-Assad alignment a last scrap, a fast deal for ending its long and bloody war with Kurdish separatists, now that Assad’s success has put paid to Kurdish hopes of merging their Syrian and Turkish regions into a continuous self-ruling entity.
Israel builds a fence, Syrian rebels see defeat
Israel, for its part, has braced itself for enduring instability in Damascus and its reflection on the Syrian side of the Golan, now in the hands of rebel forces. Work has started on the erection of a high steel security fence the length of Israel’s 57-kilometer border with Syria.
5. Seeing the various anti-Assad forces and powers hightailing it out of the region or retiring into defensive shells, Syrian rebel leaders have gone back on their vow never to hold communion with their foe, Bashar Assad and put out feelers for talks.
The first outcome of this strategy surfaced Wednesday, Jan. 9, in the three-way prisoner exchange orchestrated by the Turkish Islamist IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation. At police stations in Damascus and four other Syrian cities, the Assad regime freed 2,130 Syrian prisoners, including 73 women and a number of Turks and other foreigners.
The rebel Free Syrian Army released 48 Iranians, held since their capture last August.
Will these exchanges between the two foes continue? Will President Assad, who realistically appreciated his strengths and weakness in his nearly two years of battling insurrection, press his advantage for more savagery to crush the Syrian opposition? Or will he turn to a peace mediator for brokering a process of national reconciliation, a role he refused to assign the Algerian Brahimi?
And if Assad does open the door, will all the rebel faction commanders walk through, or will some choose to fight on to victory or death?