Hopeless Diplomacy: Syrian Regime Resembles Mafia Cartel
Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad’s clan or the rebels — both sides know that would spell their doom.
One of the most bizarre verbal exchanges in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s war against his own people recently took place in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
An opponent of the regime struck up a conversation with an extremely young soldier from the eastern part of the country: “After hesitating for a long time, the soldier accepted a sandwich and was amazed that someone was speaking Arabic with him,” recalls the activist. “He asked where he was and was totally amazed when he found out that he was in Damascus. His commanding officer had told him that they were going to Israel to fight against the Zionists. But then he wondered why the Israelis were speaking Arabic with a Syrian accent.”
Assad is keeping his troops in the dark. To prevent them from defecting, the soldiers are deployed to new locations every few days, primarily in the sprawling, poor northern suburbs of the capital city — with no mobile phones and no knowledge of where they are. Living on scant rations, often going unpaid for months and totally exhausted, many take donations of bread from local residents and, time and again, accept a discreet offer to join the rebels.
After engulfing the cities of Homs, Idlib and Aleppo, the brutality and chaos of war has now also spread to the capital Damascus. The rebellion has reached the outskirts of the inner city — Mezze in the west, Kafr Souseh in the north. Shots and explosions can be heard at night. Everyone knows, says a businessman who fled to the Jordanian capital Amman, that the fighting has entered its final stage: “But how long will it last? A month? A year?”
Rebellion Growing Despite Army Advances
The war in Syria is a war with opposing trends.
On the one hand, the regime’s military machine is taking city after city. After capturing Baba Amr and now Idlib in the north, it is now attacking Daraa in the south. Residential neighborhoods are shelled by tanks and artillery. There are reports of people executed with shots to the head, corpses found with their eyes poked out and children beaten to death.
The borders with Lebanon and Turkey are being transformed into minefields where fleeing civilians are maimed or killed. A recent report by Amnesty International lists 31 methods of torture used by the regime, including electric shocks, rape and the so-called “German chair,” which can result in permanent damage to backs and limbs.
Even with a death toll of 8,000 people, at least according to a conservative estimate by the United Nations, the US, Europe, Turkey and the Arab states are still shying away from doing more than issue sanctions and stern warnings as long as Russia and China, which both hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council, continue to block every resolution against Syria. There are no plans for military intervention or supplying arms to the rebels.
On the other hand, instead of dying down, the rebellion is growing. Contrary to assumptions that the pitifully armed Free Syrian Army (FSA) is weakened with each defeat, Assad’s troops can barely keep large areas of the country in check. Government forces were able to shell Baba Amr, a suburb of Homs, on three sides, yet the big Sunni quarter in the heart of the city remains largely in the hands of the rebels. There are now daily protests even in Aleppo, the once calm financial and commercial center in the north.
The Syrian government’s announcement that it intends to hold elections on May 7 is nothing but a bluff. The ruling clique, consisting of the Assad family and a number of generals, is repeating the policies of the dynasty’s founder. Following his putsch in 1970, Hafez Assad also pledged more democracy and introduced a new constitution. When resistance mounted in the late 1970s, he had cities besieged and shelled, entire villages razed to the ground and hundreds of prisoners executed in a campaign that lasted three years. At the time, virtually none of this was leaked to the outside world until the brutal destruction of the old city of Hama in 1982. Afterwards, there was utter calm in the country — until a year ago.
Regime Like a Mafia Cartel