Queen Rania of Jordan put in a concerned call to Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad Tuesday Feb. 28, to ask how she was doing. According to the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, Mrs. Assad replied: “Our situation is excellent and we have no concerns, thanks to Allah.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that as they spoke, in another room of the palace, King Abdullah of Jordan offered a far from “excellent” description of the situation in Damascus to a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations which had traveled from Jerusalem to visit him.
“Assad’s finished,” the king told his American guests. “He won’t manage to crush the revolt against him. Assad inherited his father’s personality without his ability.”
Abdullah advised his guests not to pay too much notice of Syrian military successes against the opposition. The Syrian army, he said, was “a declining, anachronistic force” whose high officers "are afraid of the leader, and watch each other’s backs. This keeps it paralyzed.”
”That is why – contrary to what the West believes – Assad is not using his army to crack down on the uprising but the loyal Alawite Shabiha brigades and battalions.
King Abdullah explained he was eager to carry out far-reaching political reforms in Jordan, but first his kingdom had to be made safe from the Syrian turmoil.
(The Jordanian king was less than candid to his guests about the recent rise of tribal unrest aggravated by the weakness of the state and its waning credibility among society at large. The tribal loyalty enjoyed by his father, King Hussein, is no longer unconditional. However, the monarch and his advisers have not yet found their way to addressing the ferment with the right kind of reforms.)
Assad sends his army to storm and “cleanse” Baba Amr
Wednesday, Feb. 29, when the Syrian ruler heard President Barack Obama had rejected the Western-Arab military plan for safe havens in northern Syria (see HOT POINTS below), he ordered his troops to finally storm the Homs Baba Amr neighborhood after more than three weeks of siege and bombardment. They were told to “cleanse” the district, street by street, house by house.
Government media trumpeted the Free Syrian Army’s “greatest defeat.” In fact, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources note, the FSA never was in Homs. The resistance to Assad there was carried by the most professional Syrian rebel group, The Al Farouk Brigades, which kept the Syrian military at bay for nearly a month although they have no ties with the FSA and number no more than 300 to 400 fighters. The rebel movement has some 40 small “brigades” like this one, ragtag freelancers who fight at random here and there but demonstrate little operational ability.
The Syrian army is not in much better shape. Assad’s authority is waning, According to our sources it is riddled from division level down to battalions and brigades with an affliction known to Middle East intelligence circles as “defection in place.”
Entire units from commander down defy orders from the General Staff in Damascus to fight the rebels without crossing the lines to the opposition. To keep the spreading passive mutiny being played up by the West and his Arab foes, Assad keeps the defiant units supplied in their barracks with funds and food.
Syrian army in passive mutiny
This week, the five Syrian divisions stationed on Syria’s Golan border with Israel and its frontier with South Lebanon were told by their commanders to ignore orders from Damascus to join the crackdown on rebels because their mission was “to defend the Syrian homeland from external threats” – another form of “defection in place.”
Last week, the Syrian ruler added to his insane violence an apparently irrational action against his most valued ally, Iran. Mystery still surrounds the expedition of the Iranian supply ship Kharg and destroyer Sahid Qandi, after they transited the Suez Canal and supposedly anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus Feb. 18.
Three days later, by which time the Iranian vessels was heading for home after passing through the Suez Canal, the US Pentagon spokesman George Little said with strong and unusual emphasis, “We have absolutely no indication whatsoever the Iranian ships ever docked in Syrian ports.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources confirm this. Just as the two Iranian ships were about to dock in Tartus, President Assad had their captains notified that the port was closed to their entry. If they tried to enter the port, they would be intercepted by Syrian air and naval forces.
Was this the first sign of trouble between the two allies, Iran and Syria? Was Assad punishing Tehran for allowing two of his harshest critics to appear on an Iranian state TV program and discuss the political status of the Arab Revolt?
Western and Middle Eastern intelligence circles have no answers to this enigma.