Syria: Towards the Endgame
IN EVERY revolution, there is a moment when the tide turns against the regime. In Egypt it came on January 28th last year, when protesters occupied Tahrir Square and torched the ruling-party headquarters. In Libya it happened on August 20th last year, when people in Tripoli rose against Qaddafi. In Syria it may have happened on July 18th, when a bomb struck at the heart of Syria’s military command.
If the attack shifts the balance of power decisively against President Bashar Assad, that is greatly to be welcomed. But a year or so after their revolutions, both Egypt and Libya remain unstable; and Syria, which borders Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, is an exceptionally complex and pivotal part of the Middle East. Those who wish Syrians well now need to focus not just on how to bring about Mr Assad’s swift fall from power, but also on how to spare the post-Assad Syria from murder and chaos and how to prevent violence from spreading across a combustible region.
The bombing of the national security headquarters in Damascus is likely to weaken the regime in a number of ways (see article). It wounded many and killed the defence minister and a former military chief. Worse still for the president was the death of Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and one of the regime’s most powerful figures. Mr Assad rapidly filled their positions, but in a country governed by a clique held together by personal loyalty, the dead men will not easily be replaced.
That the bombing seems to have been an inside job, requiring intelligence and access deep inside the regime, will also damage the command structure of the armed forces and the security services. The loyalty of the army—in which the officers are largely from Mr Assad’s Alawite sect and the ranks are mostly Sunni—was anyway one of the regime’s weaknesses. A blast from a huge bomb somehow smuggled into the inner sanctum will sow mistrust and suspicion at all levels.