Tens of thousands of Syrian nationals are fleeing Syria and others are stockpiling food and supplies as they brace for an imminent military assault on their country by Western powers. Nevertheless, Syrian government officials are remaining calm on the surface and publicly promising that any military effort to weaken the Assad regime will end in failure.
The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera reports that Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi, one of President Bashar Assad’s closest associates, threatened that if attacked, Syria will become “a graveyard for the invaders. We are not intimidated by their colonial threats.”
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned that if the US, France, or the United Kingdom put soldiers on the ground in Syria, “terrorists would use chemical weapons against them.” “Terrorists” is how the regime refers to the rebels in the Syrian civil war. Mekdad also accused the US, France, and United Kingdom of putting chemical weapons in the hands of the opposition in the first place.
The Assad regime has repeatedly denied complicity in the August 21st chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Nevertheless, it has repeatedly obstructed the efforts of a team of United Nations weapons inspectors, who now say they will only be able to file a report on the attack in another four days.
“If the West attacks us before then, we will surprise the aggressors just as we surprised [the Israelis] in the October (Yom Kippur) war in 1973,” Al-Halqi iterated. “I repeat. A Western attack will not bring our government down.”
Interestingly, US President Barack Obama seems to entirely agree with that assessment. The London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat states that, in an interview with PBS News Hour, Obama said that any American strike on Syria would be limited and unlikely to affect the balance of power between Assad’s forces and opposition fighters.
“I have not made a decision yet (on Syria),” Obama said. “Direct military intervention or involvement in the civil war in Syria will not help in resolving the situation on the ground. . . If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.”
It might, but an equally likely result is that Assad will become even more emboldened to do whatever is necessary to win the civil war, according to the leading editorial in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
The piece, entitled “Syria: The drums of war are stronger than the impact,” stresses the backing Assad feels he has from Russia, Iran, and China. If the Western response to Assad’s chemical attack is weak, the Syrian regime will see that the West is anything but serious about taking action on humanitarian grounds.
“The only thing that is certain about the outcome of a Western attack is that day after it President Assad will come out to announce the failure of the military campaign of the mighty Western armies,” the editorial reads. “He will credit his own leadership capabilities, his army, and the Syrian people that stand with him to bring the country to victory.”
In an op-ed in the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat called “Will the Assad regime be terminated after a military strike?” Saleh Qallab disagrees with the previous assessment. Qallab writes that Assad is merely a minor figure in his own regime. His government’s staying power does not come from foreign military backing or from Assad himself, but from the cadre of powerful Alawite political figures that wield real authority in the Syrian government. If that cadre feels that Assad’s time is up, they will remove him themselves.
“Bashar Assad was a little boy with no experience or competence when he was chosen as president of Syria after his father died,” Qallab explains. “It’s a dangerous job in a country of military coups and a volatile political climate. He was chosen as president to fend off major instability by more powerful figures in the country than himself.”
“The reality is that Assad is man who lives in a valley. He is the victim of those around him who commit horrific actions and crimes against humanity without his knowledge but in his name. To save the Syrian system, the regime may get rid of Assad and make him the scapegoat for their own crimes.”
“With this knowledge, a Western military strike could have the effect of toppling not only Assad, but also the dangerous men around him. . . This is important for Syria and the entire Middle East.”