Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A painful blow to the Syrian regime | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The sudden explosion at a national security building in Damascus is the largest tremor so far in the assault upon the solid body of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

This operation, which claimed the lives of the Syrian Defense Minister, General Dawoud Rajha, and other senior security officials including Assef Shawkat, has transmitted the popular revolution movement from the streets to the ruling palaces, and brought the activities of the opposition Free Syrian Army [FSA] to the regime’s inner circle. Keen observers of the Syrian file will be able to interpret the following results from this operation:

Firstly, the choice of location: This in itself is a painful blow to the security and prestige of the regime, for it was an explosion in a building located in the al-Rouda district of Damascus, near to one of the Syrian President’s palaces and always surrounded by extraordinary security measures, meaning that any important target, regardless of the surrounding security, could potentially be bombed.

Secondly, the human targets: More important than the assassination of the Defense Minister was the assassination of General Assef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law and one of the closest figures to the al-Assad family and the regime’s decision making center, who previously served as deputy Defense Minister. The assassination of Shawkat, one of the senior planners and perpetrators of the massacres against the opposition, represents a major blow to the al-Assad regime, and sends a very clear message to the President that “you and your regime are in danger”. Assef Shawkat was part of the so-called “chosen leaders” within the regular Syrian army, who were granted the ranks of Brigadier General, Major General and First General. These men are selected by name and appointed by the “Supreme Commander”; the President. As for General Dawoud Rajha, who served as Defense Minister, he received his rank in recognition of his loyalty to the regime, and it is noteworthy that no one had received the rank of First General before him except for First General Tlass and First General Hikmat al-Shihabi.

Thirdly, this operation will be followed by others, perhaps even more daring ones, conducted by the FSA which now boasts nearly 70,000 officers, troops and armed volunteers. So far, no one knows exactly how the explosion was carried out; was it a suicide bomber or a bomb placed beforehand, and the most important question is: was it really the work of the FSA? Or was this an attack by a jihadist faction, as has been rumored and repeated? Or could it even have been the work of a security officer close to the inner circle of the regime?

Perhaps the fundamental force underlying the regime is the Republican Guard, which consists of an artillery regiment, a mobile brigade and three armored brigades. These are led by Maher al-Assad, the President’s brother and primary confidant for issues of regime security.

This painful blow prompted Sergey Lavrov to declare that there is now a genuine major battle taking place in Damascus. In turn, Bashar al-Assad has been prompted, for the first time since these events began, to face the great question that has been avoided in the past: Is it possible for the regime to impose itself by force at such an infinite cost, or is it best to make arrangements to leave?