The long stalemate in Syria is taking an ominous and possibly important new turn. Syrian dissidents appear to be forming an embryonic army to challenge the Assad regime’s violent repression of largely peaceful protests. The Washington Post reports:
For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.
Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.
This newest Syrian development has the potential to be a major gamechanger in the conflict. Thus far neither side has been able to gain the upper hand — Assad has failed to stamp out dissent, but the opposition has been unable to push back the forces of the regime. This new military force may finally tip the balance in favor of the opposition.This won’t be because a poorly armed, ragtag band of deserters and malcontents can mount a credible threat to the Syrian Army. If the new army changes the equation it will be because the presence of organized resistance may make foreign intervention more likely. NATO intervened when Qaddafi’s army threatened Benghazi; should the Syrian resistance gain control of a city or chunk of territory containing civilian refugees and this sanctuary be threatened by Syrian forces, some of the same arguments that led to war in Libya will be invoked against Syria.As in the Libyan case, one question would be whether there was Arab and/or Muslim support. This might well be forthcoming if Sunni Syrians were threatened with massacre by Alawite security forces; Turkey and Qatar might well be the key states with the Saudis in the background.This is still far off and the international community shows no sign at present wanting military intervention in Syria. But if the opposition’s one hope is to mobilize international support for intervention, the formation of a rebel army may be the most effective route to that goal.Stay tuned.