A decisive blow against Assad

A decisive blow against Assad

With Wednesday’s blast at the heart of the regime, Syria’s opposition has proven that actions on the ground, not UN resolutions, will determine the outcome of the war

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his defense minister Dawoud Rajha (right) at a memorial ceremony for the 1973 War, October 2011 (photo credit: AP Photo/Sana)
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his defense minister Dawoud Rajha (right) at a memorial ceremony for the 1973 War, October 2011 (photo credit: AP Photo/Sana)

The bloody deadlock between Syria’s government and opposition, which had lasted for 16 months, has been shattered in the space of four days. Fighting reached Damascus on Saturday, and Wednesday morning’s explosion — which killed at least three very senior officials in President Bashar Assad’s inner circle, and injured a score of other security officials — will likely be the final blow to the teetering Assad regime.

In an instant, the blast reshaped the debate on Syria. The question of whether Russia will block Wednesday’s UN Security Council resolution on Syria — Tuesday’s headline — became superfluous, almost ridiculous. The Free Syrian Army, which claimed responsibility for the bombing, has taken matters into its own hands, decisively.

The UN, set to meet in order to renew the mandate of its 300 observers on the ground, could hardly seem less relevant.

More than just a tactical victory for the opposition, the fact that a renegade member of Assad’s security detail (according to preliminary reports) managed to reach such high -ranking officials, in the heavily guarded national security headquarters, constitutes a significant moral setback for Assad’s dwindling circle of supporters.

‘Ninety percent of Syria’s officers are considering defection,’ asserted Nawaf Al-Fares, Syria’s defecting ambassador to Iraq

“Ninety percent of Syria’s officers are considering defection,” asserted Nawaf Al-Fares, Syria’s defecting ambassador to Iraq, serving as a guest expert for Al-Jazeera on Wednesday afternoon. “Syrian citizens know that this regime is finished, that’s it. We are in the final stages of the revolution.”

The regime is not going down without a fight. A Syrian journalist in Damascus told Al-Jazeera over the phone that the regime responded to the National Security Building bombing with “crazy” mortar attacks against opposition forces in Damascus. And it rushed to appoint a substitute defense minister, Fahd Jassem Al-Freij.

The three men killed on Wednesday were among the top officials of Assad’s security establishment. Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha,  65, is the most senior government official to be killed in the Syrian civil war so far. A Christian, Rajha was appointed only last year from within the ranks of the military.

Slain Syrian defense minister Dawoud Rajha (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)
Slain Syrian defense minister Dawoud Rajha (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)

The second loss will be much more painful to the Assad family. Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, 62, was Assad’s brother-in-law. He, too, came from the military, serving as deputy chief of staff and head of military intelligence. Shawkat was falsely rumored to have been killed by the Free Syrian Army in May. On Wednesday, it was official Syrian TV that confirmed his death.

The third fatality is significant too. Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister, was at the forefront of the battle against the rebels.

The coming days, perhaps even hours, will be critical for the regime’s survival. Preliminary reports from the ground — the authenticity of which cannot be confirmed — indicate extreme anxiety on the part of the military.

The Free Syrian Army claimed Wednesday afternoon that regime soldiers have withdrawn from the Midan neighborhood of Damascus, abandoning their armored personnel carriers at the side of the road.

High-ranking Syrian officers continue to trickle daily across the border to Jordan and Turkey. Now they may start running.


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