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A dead “lion” is better than an injured one - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Perhaps the al-Assad regime will survive for another two or three months, or perhaps even six months, before its inevitable collapse. Nobody can predict the precise period of time it will survive, however there are two certainties. Firstly, that the collapse of the al-Assad regime is indeed inevitable and is just a matter of time. Secondly, that al-Assad and his allies are capable of harming the Syrian people and the region as a whole during this period.

The regime is highly skilled at sabotage, and is notorious for this. The recent developments in Syria, such as the decline in the success of the rebels, not to mention the regime extending the conflict to encompass Lebanon, via kidnappings and bombings, means that it is now a necessity to supply the rebels with arms. The regime began carrying out air strikes against civilian areas a few months ago, which is something that rarely occurs during civil wars, and this cannot be ignored by the international community. The rebels, meanwhile, have only been able to shoot down one plane, capturing the pilot. This is not due to a shortage of ammunitions, but because the rebels do not possess sufficiently sophisticated weapons capable of shooting down warplanes or gunships. Therefore we are witnessing a completely unequal battle, and this situation will remain the same unless something changes, namely a “wounded” regime whose collapse is inevitable, but which is still able to carry out the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people.

We are well aware that there are several considerations behind depriving the rebels from such arms. The most important reason is the evident chaos that exists within the Syrian revolutionary camp, particularly the multiplicity of the rebels’ political orientation and identity. The Israelis, along with their allies, completely reject the Syrian rebels being provided with any anti-tank or anti-aircraft weaponry, in the fear that this may end up being used against their own forces, in the same manner that “Stinger” missiles provided to Afghanistan rebels ended up in the hands of Pakistani militants. Such missiles were later found buried in Saudi Arabia approximately ten years ago, whilst they also suddenly appeared during the Qatari national armed forces show. Like the Israelis, the Turks also fear heavy weapons falling into the hands of the left-wing Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], which has been accused of carrying out a number of terrorist operations on Turkish soil. Of course, much of the fear is due to the confirmed presence of extremist groups in Syria. The Syrian regime previously backed Al Qaeda during the Iraqi crisis, and it may be responsible for opening the country to such extremist groups, in an attempt to strengthen its accusation against the rebels and frighten the west with the notion that the only alternative to it is radical Islamic groups, such as Al Qaeda and al-Shabaab organizations in Somalia. Indeed all regional countries are concerned by this, not just Israel, Turkey and the Western states. This is the strategy of Syria, Iran and even Russia, namely to intimidate the region that extremist groups will replace Bashar al-Assad.

Despite the relevance of these concerns, the “equation” on the ground in Syria remains the same. The regime is slowly collapsing, the country is crumbling and extremist groups are becoming stronger, at the expense of national Syrian forces that have been protesting and fighting for the past 18 months. However the fear regarding an extremist alternative to the al-Assad regime is nothing more than a ridiculous excuse, since there are technical and effective solutions that can ensure the delivery of heavy arms to the opposition whilst minimizing the risks. Leaving this wounded regime unchallenged for months to come will only allow it more opportunities to commit massacres, whilst its allies can commit similar massacre in Lebanon and elsewhere, exposing the region to more danger and chaos. Indeed, the regime has explicitly pledged to incite chaos, both at home and abroad.

Major countries, including Turkey, have been unable to establish a no-fly zone above Syria, avoiding a confrontation with powers such as Russia. In addition to this, there is also a lack of support for the Syrian rebels, preventing them from hastening the collapse of the regime in Damascus. This means that there is no obvious exit out of this complex situation. However with the collapse of the al-Assad regime, there will be nothing to justify confrontation with Russia, whilst Iran will have no choice but to accept dealing with the new status-quo. At this time, all the disagreement will be on how to manage this new Syria.

So, the key is to strengthen the Syrian rebels and allow them to neutralize the regime’s air force and heavy armour. If they had been granted the ability to do this, then the “equation” on the ground would have changed one month ago, following the bombing of the national security headquarters in Damascus, which was followed by the rebels taking over a number of the capital’s neighbourhoods. However the Syrian rebels were forced to retreat in the face of the regime’s gunships, tanks and heavy weaponry, particularly as they are only able of confronting the regime with light weaponry.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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