Assad’s Roll of the Dice: Is Winter Coming for the Syrian Rebellion?
President Bashar Assad knows his regime can’t win Syria’s civil war — his foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, admitted as much in an interview published last week by a sympathetic newspaper. But nor does he believe he’s about to lose what the U.N. last week branded an “overtly sectarian” civil war in Syria. Instead, the regime appears to still believe it can fight its opponents to a draw — al-Sharaa called for dialogue and spoke of a compromise solution, but the regime continues to believe it can set favorable terms for a negotiated outcome. The secret weapon it hopes to use to halt the rebels’ recent momentum? In a word, winter.
First, in the literal sense: The onset of a season of bitter cold amid deprivation approaching starvation in some areas is already sapping civilian morale and spurring rising despair in rebel-held territory, and Sunday’s reports of an air strike on a bakery in a rebel held town affirms the impression that the regime may be systematically targeting bread supplies in those areas to deepen the humanitarian crisis.
“The greatest challenge facing the rebels is providing the basic necessities of life to Syrians living in areas no longer controlled by the state,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “That’s why the regime is trying its best to disrupt food supplies in rebel-held areas. It needs them to fail, even to starve while they’re living under rebel control. The regime can’t allow the rebels to establish a workable alternative that pays salaries and is able to provide for those in its domain in the way that the state currently serves as the key provider to many millions of Syrians.”