No Easy Route if Assad Opts to Go, No Guarantee He Would Get Out Alive
Analysts in Russia, one of Syria’s staunchest allies, say that as rebels try to encircle Damascus and cut off escape routes through Hama province to the coast, the mood in the palace is one of panic, evinced by erratic use of weapons: Scud missiles better used against an army than an insurgency, naval mines dropped from the air instead of laid at sea.
But even if Mr. Assad wanted to flee, it is unclear if the top generals would let him out alive, Russian analysts say, since they believe that if they lay down arms they — and their disproportionately Alawite families — will die in vengeance killings, and need him to rally troops.
“If he can fly out of Damascus,” Semyon A. Bagdasarov, a Middle East expert in Moscow, said — at this, he laughed dryly — “there is also the understanding of responsibility before the people. A person who has betrayed several million of those closest to him.”
Many Syrians still share Mr. Assad’s belief that he is protecting the Syrian state, which helps explain how he has held on this long. At a lavish lunch hosted by a Lebanese politician outside Beirut in September, prominent Syrian backers of Mr. Assad — Alawites, Sunnis and Christians — spoke of the president, over copious glasses of Johnnie Walker scotch, as the bulwark of a multicultural, modern Syria.
But one friend of Mr. Assad, stepping out of earshot of the others to speak frankly, said the president’s advisers are “hotheads” who tell him, “ ‘You are weak, you must be strong,’ ” adding, “They are advising him to strike more, with the planes, any way that you can think of.”
“They speak of the rebels like dogs, terrorists, Islamists, Wahhabis,” the friend said, using a term for adherents to a puritanical form of Islam. “This is why he will keep going to the end.”
The friend added that even though Mr. Assad sometimes speaks of dialogue, he mainly wants to be a hero fending off a foreign attack. “He is thinking of victory — only victory.”