“For besieged Syrian dictator Assad, only exit may be body bag,” warns an ominous title of a Washington Post dispatch from Syria today. Senior officials in the West see Assad “backing himself into an increasingly narrow corner” and, soon perhaps, going the way of Qaddafi: chased out of town, caught on the run, executed or possibly captured by rebels.
Last week, leaders of the 22-nation Arab League put forward a new plan calling for Assad to transfer power to a transitional government in exchange for exile. Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, urged Assad to make a “courageous” decision to step aside for the sake of his country.The proposal, which followed a series of private offers by several Arab countries to broker exit deals, was dismissed in Damascus.
The battles in Damascus and Aleppo are repeating the pattern seen elsewhere in fighting around the country: the government can’t crush the rebellion. It might look like a stalemate, but in fact it is a sign of government weakness. Money and arms are flowing to the rebels, and they are becoming a more formidable military force. And if the government can’t maintain control of its own territory, it is in serious trouble.So the rebels are holding on in Aleppo and Damascus, and the government’s ability to maintain order and security is looking weaker by the day. A fight to the death looks more likely as time goes on. That is the worst legacy the regime could leave the country, and it maximizes the chance for a bloodbath and sectarian violence.That violence might elevate to a new and more dangerous level, Reuters reports, as it appears the rebels have acquired shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, commonly called MANPADs:
NBC News reported Tuesday night that the rebel Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen of the weapons, which were delivered to them via neighboring Turkey, whose moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with increasing vehemence.Indications are that the U.S. government, which has said it opposes arming the rebels, is not responsible for the delivery of the missiles.But some U.S. government sources have been saying for weeks that Arab governments seeking to oust Assad, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been pressing for such missiles, also known as MANPADs, for man-portable air-defense systems, to be supplied to the rebels.
C.J. Chivers of the NYT, a former Marine officer who is well-known as a patient and intelligent analyst of military conflicts in the Middle East, analyzed a video last Thursday that appeared to show rebel forces with MANPAD components:
…the “weapon looks like a first-generation SA-7 Manpads or a foreign variant,” wrote Matthew Schroeder, an analyst covering missile proliferation for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. Mr. Schroeder added that “a more definitive assessment of the missile, including the model, age and country of manufacture, would require footage of the markings on the launch tube.” This means that it is not possible from the video and the rest of the information available about such missiles in Syria to be sure who manufactured these components, and when, and what government possessed them last…The available data is limited and does not distinguish between complete systems (battery, tube and grip stock) and a count of just the missiles themselves. But the information manages to establish, as was the case in Libya, that the unraveling of the government forces in Syria could result in many very dangerous military-grade weapons, including man-portable heat-seeking missiles, leaving secure storage and ending up in the grips of citizens, and eventually finding their way to black markets…
And, critically, Chivers concludes:
…now that these SA-7 components have been seen, and knowing that Syrian state arsenals and perhaps even field units possess many more Manpads, more of this class of weapon will be seen.
Syria will get bloodier and messier over the coming days and weeks.