Following yesterday’s high profile bomb attack in Damascus and the subsequent urban fighting there, the Syrian regime is pushing back. Associated Press:
The opposition, which is fractious and lacks any real central command, has no hope of pacifying the country. There is no clear candidate to step in and lead should Assad go. And the violence has become far more unstable than many had ever imagined, with al-Qaida and other extremists joining the ranks of those fighting to topple the regime.
…Despite the rebel gains, the battle for Syria is not over yet. Although the rebels appear more powerful than at any stage of the uprising, their small-caliber weapons and rampant disorganization will make it all but impossible to defeat the regime in direct battle.
The rebels also have failed to hold territory for any significant amount of time, which prevents them from carving out a zone akin to Libya’s Benghazi, where opponents of Moammar Gadhafi launched their successful uprising last year.
Already, Syrian government forces are starting to drive the rebels out of pockets of Damascus. On Friday, government forces showed off a battle-scarred neighborhood of the capital that they say has been ”œcleansed” of fighters, but rebels say it was a tactical retreat that will allow them to expand their guerrilla war in the coming days and weeks.
The message coming out of the Obama administration is that Assad’s fall is imminent, and a think tank created by the US Congress has been hosting talks with what it calls “the mainstream of the opposition” – that is, the part of the opposition that likes the U.S. – to “plan for how to set up a post-Assad Syrian government.” However, Anand Gopal reports from the rebel town of Taftanaz that USIP’s mainstream may not be all it’s cracked up to be: “many in Taftanaz expressed their disdain for the SNC. ‘Who are they? Omar asked me. ‘What have they done?'”
Like the A.P. Analysis linked above, I have severe doubts that Assad is bowing out any time soon. The rebels still don’t have anything like the heavy weapons they need to overcome Assad’s core military force of Allawite units, who get all the best equipment. Unless whole Syrian military units begin defecting with their tanks and copters the rebels aren’t going to get those heavy weapons either. That means I see what’s coming not as analogous to Libya’s “Benghazi breakout” but more to the continuing back-and-forth between the Taliban and ISAF in Afghanistan, or between the Communist government and the taliban post the Soviet withdrawal. The rebels will have majority support, a “sea to swim in”, and may well end up the de facto government of large swathes of territory but Assad will have the heavy firepower to hang on to his capital and major cities as well as mount perpetual “clearing operations” that really clear nothing. I haven’t seen anyone make the military or political arguments as to why this shouldn’t be the case in any kind of way that involves actual evidence. The triumphalist talk of a full rebel victory being just around the corner is all wishful thinking as far as I can see. And even if it isn’t, then the way in which the SNC and other rebel factions who are well-connected to the West are being touted as the government-in-waiting, just ready to go as soon as assad leaves, certainly is.