Khaddam on Assad
The former Syrian vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, thinks that Assad is planning to establish an Alawite state on Syria's coast, and that he has ordered the redeployment of Syria's strategic arsenal and warplanes closer to Lattakia and Tartous.
I've heard this rumour floating around for months and I think that is far fetched. Then again, nothing is impossible these days. If Assad did want to carve a feudal domain for himself on Syria's coast, then he could do worse. He could remain relevant to the Russians, and continue hosting a naval base for them in Tartous. He might have some idea that if the Levant's coast has a Jewish state, a Christian state, then why not an Alawite state? Letting the "Muslims" squabble in the interior, and cutting them off from the sea.
These aren't nice things to say, but for this sectarian regime that has never hesitated to terrify minorities and create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust between Syria's community's, I would not be surprised. The other problem with this story, of course, is that Khaddam is the man behind it. I don't trust the man, nor do I like him. He was a part of this regime for far too long, and that makes him suspect in my eyes.
Last week Assad promised to react with an "iron fist" and the results of his decision have started to appear over the past few days. Yesterday alone al Jazeera reported that there were one hundred and two deaths in the country, and the previous day there was a intensive assault on areas of both Homs and Hama; two cities that have been at the heart of this revolution. There has also been quite grim footage of the number of dead children that have been killed, and I've heard that a video on Youtube of casualties from Karm al Zeitoun are particularly depressing.
Many average Syrians that I speak to all voice to me predictions of Assad's fall: Two months, six months, that he won't last till the summer, but always that his end is inevitable. People I knew to be very non-political, and even in some cases a bit sympathetic with Assad, are now shifting dramatically against him. And nobody is afraid of talking politics or criticising the regime anymore.
The Iranian Factor
This is something which annoys me greatly. The constant drip of Iranian stories about Syria. Not many people recall but there was a story recently that five Iranians were kidnapped in Homs. I still haven't heard about their release, and nobody is talking about that anymore, until now. The Washington Post says that gunmen have kidnapped Iranian pilgrims close to the city of Aleppo and that:
Last month, 7 Iranian engineers building a power plant in central Syria were kidnapped. They have not yet been released.But I'm pretty sure the story was more than a month old, and that the figure was five, not seven. Nevermind, the misinformation and confusion continues. To add more to this mix, Haaretz is reporting that the Free Syrian Army have captured Iranian soldiers in Syria. This is the Youtube video they have linked to. The singing sounds a lot like that found on salafist, jihadi videos. The video purports to show Iranian army officers, and one of them holds up an identity card. I don't know what they are saying as the video is not translated, and I don't know if this is genuine.
I don't discount this video, but it could be fake, and it could be about something else entirely. I'd appreciate if anybody who understands Farsee could give me their insight into what is being said. The article continues:
Moreover, there have been recent reports that Hezbollah was moving hundreds of missiles from storage sites in Syria to bases in Lebanon, fearing the fall of Assad's regime.The Free Syrian Army
I'm also watching on al Jazeera English that the Syrian National Council is now going to provide more support to the Free Syrian Army. This army, under Colonel Riad al Asaad, has become more and more prominent in the headlines recently, and I'm reading reports that some of their checkpoints are minutes away from main streets on the suburbs of Damascus. The Zabadani and Madaya areas, a short drive from the capital, are now said to be completely in the hands of the Free Syrian Army as well. If this is true, then things are developing very quickly in a new direction with unpredictable consequences. I don't entirely feel comfortable with this Free Syrian Army business, and I think the Arab world has had enough of triumphant colonels riding into power with the best of intentions. The nature of their relationship with the Syrian National Council, and how much they are under the control of anybody, is all still murky - and I am worried about this a lot.
On another note, a Kurdish opposition meeting in Irbil is probably the biggest sign that everybody is starting to prepare for a post-Assad era, or at least that the Kurds want to prepare for the worst should Syria descend into civil war. The Kurdish Autonomous zone in Iraq is reported to have declared its support for the Syrian opposition. They would not have done so if they didn't think Assad was weak or about to fall.
The Straw that Breaks the Lions Back...
...Could be the economy. The Syrian Pound is now regularly over seventy to the dollar, and the Syrian economy is at a complete standstill. Nobody is happy, and the old families with money in Aleppo and Damascus are said to be fidgety with Assad's handling of this crisis. A nice article about this on the LA Times website:
Some have begun quietly donating money to opposition groups for medicine, food and blankets in neighborhoods besieged by security forces — "playing for the future," as one Damascus businessman put it.I first heard about this a few months ago, whereby Syrian merchants had been paying their Ramadan alms to the Syrian revolution, believing this to be their religious duty. I heard of one wealthy person purchasing four Thuraya satellite phones from Lebanon and having them donated to the revolutionary committees. Beneath the visage of iron-fisted regime control, there appears to be an invisible network of friends and acquaintances who are getting money to where it is needed. Many families are in dire circumstances and have been so for months, so informal networks are helping to provide for them and delivering food and medicine wear possible. In that sense, I think that the makeshift hospitals and surgeries which are treating wounded protesters are only a part of this massive informal network that is being formed to deliver services and assistance to Syrians.