For the first time in the anti-Assad uprising, elements of Syria's popular protest movement are turning to armed revolt on lines similar to those marking the Libyan conflict. Wednesday, April 27, armed civilians were seen for the first time, some openly carrying anti-tank weapons, in the Daraa district of the South and Banias and Jableh on the coast, the primary targets of the regime's armored-backed offensive on the six-week old protest movement.
debkafile's military sources report that these dissidents resorted openly to arms after discovering that Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers were masterminding the brutal crackdown against them, lending the Assad regime the experience they had gained in crushing the 2009 anti-regime opposition in Tehran.
At the UN Security Council Tuesday night, US ambassador Susan Rice directly accused President Bashar Assad of mustering Iranian assistance to repress Syrian citizens "through the same brutal tactics that have been used by the Iranian regime."
Our Washington sources report that the US, Britain, France and other European countries are not waiting for the Security Council to condemn Syria. As an American official put it, "in the near future," the US plans to issue a series of sanctions against heads of the Assad regime and its security agencies. There is also talk of war crimes charges against the president's brother Maher Assad who is in command of the military assault on the protesters.
In Syria meanwhile, Western military sources predict that the next stage of the Syrian crisis will see protesters-turned-rebels shooting at the military tanks and armored vehicles spearheading the assaults by commando units on foot in the towns under siege, while snipers pick off demonstrators or ordinary passers-by from the rooftops.
In the first two days of the military operation, the tanks have been rolling through the streets sowing panic and fear in targeted cities and providing cover for the soldiers shooting civilians at random. Disabling the tanks, the protesters believe, will disarm that tactic, which has been directed first against the million inhabitants of Daraa and its outlying towns in the Horon province Tuesday, April 26.
There, under tank cover, small elements of the 132nd Brigade of the Fourth Division commanded by Mahar Asasad are holding Daraa under virtual lockdown, having cut off essential supplies of food and water, electricity and external communications.
Still, the town refuses to be broken or starved into submission.
Tuesday night, small units of foot soldiers protected by tanks were on standby night outside Banias and Jableh and Wednesday morning, elements of the 47th Brigade of the Fourth Division were poised to follow a tank charge into Hama.
If Assad loses his tanks, he will need to deploy many more soldiers to shoot the protesters off the streets and carry out mass arrests and so increase the hazards of defections, mutiny and the army's breakup.
For Damascus, the Syrian ruler is pursuing a different tactic. To conceal the massive military involvement in the crackdown from the capital's population, thousands of undercover soldiers were told to remove their uniforms and issued with black coveralls without insignia for raids on the Damascus suburb of Duma and protest centers elsewhere in the capital. They are intended to look like policemen.