Three generals, members of the Syrian General Command, disappeared in Damascus this week, one a senior intelligence officer, debkafile's military and intelligence sources report. The Assad regime has drawn a heavy curtain of secrecy over the affair. However, our sources learn that the body of one of the generals turned up riddled with bullets at the military hospital in Damascus.
Our sources explain the disappearances either by the high officers' defection in disgust at President Bashar Assad's savage methods for crushing revolt. This would signal the break-up of the high army command; or a purge of his high command by Assad who, certain of victory, is getting rid of generals of doubtful loyalty; or thirdly, one of them at least was killed by rebels. Since early September, the opposition has re-focused their campaign of liquidations against top regime figures from the northern Homs area to the capital.
The Syrian conflict is now dominated by four features:
1. The dwindling of the mass demonstrations plaguing the Assad regime for seven months since March 15 in the face of the army's ruthless onslaught by tanks and guns. This does not mean that the contest is over or that the Syrian ruler has come out of it with the upper hand.
2. Anti-Assad forces are instead marshalling in the northwestern triangle between Hama, Homs and Idlib in bands of well-armed guerilla fighters, often led by defecting soldiers or officers, for attacking individual army officers and small units.
3. Two of Syria's most important minorities, the Alawites and the Druzes, fear that this form of warfare will lead inexorably to widespread civil war. They are preparing themselves for the worst by barricading their villages and towns against interlopers and organizing armed militias to keep them out.
debkafile's intelligence sources report that although the ruling Assad political and military elite are drawn from the Alawite sect, its 3. 5 million members are ready for trouble and guarding their Al-Alawiyeen Mountains domain which runs 32 kilometers down the northwestern shore up to and including the port town of Latakia.
The Alawites are not getting their arms from their coreligionists in government. Each individual chooses and pays for weapons from the contraband smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Jordan. They are rigorously keeping trespassers out of their mountain region and Latakia, which they consider their capital. In this town of 850,000 dwellers, the Sunni districts are separated by roadblocks, barricades and gun emplacements.
The 2.1 million Druzes have divided Djebel Druze in southern Syria into sectors. Militiamen stands guard at their barricaded entry-points to keep strangers out.
4. The Assad regime is going broke, ruined by the seven-month uprising. It can barely find the money to buy food and other essential commodities for keeping the economy and the military going or even pay salaries to government personnel.
According to a recent report, the economic damage suffered by six "Arab spring" nations totals $56 billion. Syria is described as incurring the worst losses of them all to its GDP and public finances, totaling $27.3 billion.
Our Iranian sources disclose that since Syrian banks were frozen out of European banks by European Union sanctions, the Assad regime has been forced to start borrowing from Iranian banks. But it is hard to tell for how long the banks in Tehran will be willing to risk extending credit to bail out Bashar Assad.