Syria End Game on the Horizon

The sinking Syrian ship of stateThe rhetoric from the Government of Syria is more defiant than ever, though tough talk has done nothing to halt the steady disintegration of the Baathist regime’s power base.

A steady trickle of desertions is continuing, as key supporters, officials and high-ranking army officers abandon the sinking Syrian ship of state.

Nor has tough talk stopped the rebel forces of the Syrian National Coalition, even in their previous divided state, from pressing on with their struggle to bring an end to Bashir al-Assad’s hold on power. Entire swathes of the country are in rebel hands, and further territory – including second city Aleppo – is in severe dispute.

The national economy is collapsing under the strain of the conflict, oil revenues are a fraction of what they were a year ago, and sanctions imposed by the world community are hindering the government’s ability to advance its own cause. Meanwhile, the rebel coalition is able to move supplies, weapons and munitions, covertly supplied through friendly Arab states, into Syria.

Although allies Russia and China do their best to retard efforts by the United Nations to bring pressure to bear on al-Assad to leave power and there are indications that Russia may be covertly re-supplying the Baathists – the world community is showing increasing impatience with the slow progress of international moves to bring an end to an increasingly bloody civil war.

On Monday both the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League endorsed the newly unified Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella body covering all the various fractious rebel groups, as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian People. This move effectively isolates the Baathist regime, sending a signal that the international community is getting ready to force a conclusion to the conflict, installing a new government in Syria.

Mouaz al-Khatib, the cleric heading the SNC, has vowed to represent all the peoples of Syria, and has appealed to the world community for recognition and for aid including arms. Already, France has officially joined the GCC and Arab League in recognizing the SNC as the sole legitimate representative of the people of Syria. The United States and United Kingdom have signaled support for the SNC, but did not extend official recognition. No promises of arms have been forthcoming – at least not so far but French President Francois Hollande has hinted that such action may not be completely ruled out in the future.

In the meantime the Syrian government remains utterly defiant, stating that “no power on earth” could ever remove Bashir al-Assad from his position, and that outside forces threatening the country were “an empty bubble”. Last week President al-Assad declared that he would never leave Syria, and that he was prepared to fight and die there if necessary.

This sort of talk is usually heard coming from hard-pressed dictators who feel the need to shore up the flagging loyalty of their cadres, who have begun to sense that long-term the game will ultimately go to the other side – and are fearing that their leader senses it as well and may bolt, leaving them to fend for themselves leaderless.

A newly unified and coordinated SNC, financed and re-supplied by the GCC and Arab League and held together by a respected cleric, might soon pose a terminal threat to the crumbling Baathist government. Bashaar al-Assad and his cadres would then have the opportunity to learn whether the “fight” or the “flight” syndrome will prevail.

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