The wholesale slaughter of civilians has become a commonplace for the Syrian protesters who nonetheless refuse to give up after seven months of carnage.
One day, 32 anti-regime demonstrators are drily reported killed; 25, the next – as the killing, abuse and torture go on with only the feeblest protests from the West.
There are three more troubling aspects of Bashar Assad's barbaric crackdown on dissidents:
1. On September 8, he gathered all the military strength at his disposal for a final operation to crush the protest movement. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report this is not one of the local massacres that are routine in one city after another, but an all-out effort to systematically cleanse Syria of every opposition element. Assad has mobilized his entire 300,000-strong army plus 75,000 reservists for this awesomely shocking operation dubbed “Biraq Assad” – Assad’s Flag. Its purpose: to return the Assad flag to every city, town and village.
Ordered to focus on army deserters, our sources report that Syrian forces have begun going house to house holding lists. Instead of making arrests, they burst into homes and rake all their occupants with automatic fire – men, women, children and elderly alike.
Since this new tactic was introduced, the size of anti-Assad demonstrations has declined by about two-thirds.
Russians, Chinese and Iran bolster Assad
2. In the month since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on world countries to boycott Syrian oil and gas and halt weapons supplies to Syria, Russia, China and Iran have stepped up their arms consignments to the regime in Damascus. Moscow has also set up a military-diplomatic headquarters at the Russian embassy headed by President Dmitry Medvedev’s personal envoy, Mikhail Margelov.
The Russian experts are advising Assad on the weapons most effective for suppressing the revolt against him and how to dodge Western and NATO sanctions.
The Chinese have sent a special delegation to Damascus which coordinates its steps with the Russians.
Moscow has a big bone to pick with the West, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Russian sources report. Its offer to mediate solutions for the crises in Libya and Damascus did not entail overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi. The Russians claim that NATO's capture of Tripoli and its handover to the Libyan rebels were not part of the deal, especially when the city was placed under the command of a former Al Qaeda operative.
Syria under the Assad dynasty is the second biggest market for Russian arms after Libya. After losing Qaddafi, Moscow is making sure Assad does not go the same way.
Major setback for US-Turkish goal to put moderate Muslims in power
3. The voices of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, not too long ago the most strident in threatening military action to cut Assad down, have fallen abruptly silent.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources confirm that President Barack Obama and Erdogan, who coordinated their Syrian policy until recently, never said Assad must go. They hoped to see him stay in office while pursuing political reforms for bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into government – in line with the Obama administration's overall aspiration for the Arab revolts, including the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, to end with moderate Muslims in power.
This objective fits the Turkish prime minister's agenda – as he formulated it for the benefit of Egyptian leaders in Cairo this week: Secular states governed by moderate Muslim rulers modern enough to cooperate with the West.
The Obama-Erdogan blueprint for the post-revolt Arab world has run into three major obstacles:
– Bashar Assad and the family around him resolved to follow in the footsteps of his father President Hafez Assad who in 1982 bombed the Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama into extinction. On no account are they willing to share power with their deadliest enemy.
Washington's plans are confounded by Russia, China and Iran
– Shiite Iran is putting all its military and economic might at Assad’s disposal intent on frustrating the US-Turkish steps (in which Saudi Arabia is also involved) for opening government up to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus – any more than it wants to see them in control of the levers of government anywhere in the region, whether in Tripoli, Cairo or Ankara.
– For Moscow, fundamentalist Muslim power is traditionally anathema – an invitation to Russia's own Muslim minority to get big ideas. Beijing is equally loath to see Muslim power reigning in the Middle East under US influence.
The power struggle in Syria has therefore morphed into a contest over the future of Muslim government in the new Middle East regimes. If the military rulers of Cairo see Assad defeating the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, they may be encouraged to crack down on the Egyptian Brothers too – to the dismay of the Obama administration.
Washington is now challenged by outside forces which outweigh the Obama administration at this moment of decline in the US president's political standing and Europe's life-and-death struggle to save the European Union and the euro.