The following Telegraph story based on the account of defecting general Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh presents a compelling picture of chaos within the ranks of the Syrian army, just as this CBC story: Syria’s fractured opposition, a long way from victory,describes a divided opposition. Most observers believe an end to the bloody stalemate is a long way off. Even if the Syrian military is weak, the opposition forces have a lot of building to do before they can capitalize on the weaknesses of the Assad regime to destroy it.
It will take a major effort by opposition sponsors to build up a force capably of bringing down the Syria army. Sanctions have seriously undermined government efforts to finance its military, but they have equally impoverished the average Syrian and businessman who can be expected to support the opposition.
Syria’s most senior defector: Assad’s army is close to collapse
Bashar al-Assad’s army is close to a collapse that could plunge the Middle East into a “nuclear reaction”, its most senior defector has told The Sunday Telegraph.
By Richard Spencer, 05 Feb 2012
Syrian army General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, the second in command in northern Syria in charge of intelligence Photo: AFP
In his first full-length newspaper interview, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has taken refuge in Turkey, gave an apocalyptic insider’s view of the state of the regime – despite its attempt to reassert control this weekend.
He said only a third of the army was at combat readiness due to defections or absenteeism, while remaining troops were demoralised, most of its Sunni officers had fled, been arrested, or sidelined, and its equipment was degraded.
“The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction,” he said.
The failure of President Assad to keep a tight grip even on the towns and suburbs around Damascus, some of which have driven out the army for periods in recent weeks, has led to a reassessment of his forces’ unity.
When Gen Sheikh fled over the border from his town in the north of the country in the second half of November, he thought the army could hold out against a vastly outnumbered opposition for a year or more. Now, he said, attacks by the rebels’ Free Syrian Army were escalating as the rank and file withered away due to lack of belief in the cause.
The Assads’ increasing reliance on loyalists from their own Alawite minority meant Sunni officers had fled, were under house arrest or at best marginalised and distrusted.
“The army will collapse during February,” he said. “The reasons are the shortage of Syrian army personnel, which even before March 15 last year did not exceed 65 per cent. The proportion of equipment that was combat ready did not exceed that, due to a shortage of spare parts.
“The Syrian army combat readiness I would put at 40 per cent for hardware and 32 per cent for personnel.
“They are sending in elements from the Shabiha (militia) and the Alawite sect to compensate, but this army is unable to continue more than a month. Some elements of the army are reaching out to the FSA to help them to defect.”
Gen Sheikh is not an impartial observer. He is negotiating with the Syrian National Council and the FSA over his future role in the offensive against President Assad. Even now, few analysts or diplomats would agree with his view, believing that the regime, though weakened, has the resilience to cling on to power for months, if not years.
“That the government’s days are numbered can no longer be in serious doubt, but just how many it has left remains an open question,” Yezid Sayigh, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote this week . “The regime cannot win, but it certainly can resist and prolong the conflict.”
Gen Sheikh said he had battled with his conscience before fleeing, mindful of his 37 years’ service and of possible retribution against his extended family. He said the final straw had been a sexual assault by soldiers who took turns to attack a young bride at a village near the town of Hama. He believes the army has become a ‘crazy killing machine’, and that without a solution within a fortnight, “the whole region will flare up”.
“The region is strained to the limits because of the role of Iran,” he said. “The Syrian regime has helped transform it into a base for Iranian conspiracies.”
He said that some of the possible solutions – buffer zones, humanitarian corridors – were no longer relevant, even in the unlikely event of United Nations security council backing.
“There is no time,” he said. “There is a serious acceleration under way due to the collapse of the army and the security system.
“We want very urgent intervention, outside of the security council due to the Russian veto. We want a coalition similar to what happened in Kosovo and the Ivory Coast.”
Syria on brink of civil war as diplomacy fails to dislodge Assad
As Arab countries lose patience with diplomatic effort, Qatar rumoured to be arming Free Syrian Army with Saudi blessing
Ian Black, Middle East editor
….”The SNC’s whole strategy was for the cavalry to come over the hill – whether that meant the Arab League, the UN or Nato,” said a Damascus-based diplomat. “They don’t have an alternative. Their whole raison d’etre has disappeared.” In any event, prospects for a negotiated end to the uprising look even bleaker than before.
Perhaps, though, suggested analyst Rime Allaf, there is a silver lining. “Russia’s veto showed that Assad’s supporters are not really prepared to negotiate,” she said. “Everything is clearer now that we know – even if things will get worse.” On the ground, the activists of the local co-ordination committees and the fighters of the Free Syrian Army already sound more defiant. “In the coming days, many Syrians are going to do a lot of soul-searching ultimately leading to a decision to support armed struggle,” one activist tweeted. “We have to depend solely on Syrians to liberate ourselves,” insisted another. “Where do I donate to buy arms for the Free Syrian Army?” asked a third
Overnight, demonstrations in the suburbs of Damascus – in solidarity with Homs and in support of the FSA –displayed growing readiness to risk everything. But the balance of forces between the regime and even its armed opponents remains terrifyingly unequal. In Homs, BBC correspondent Paul Wood reported from inside the city, it was a battle of “Kalashnikovs versus tanks.”
Propaganda is certainly playing a role. Initial claims of hundreds of dead in the shelling of the Khaldiyeh area of Homs were revised downwards by one opposition group on Sunday as a Syrian minister lambasted “fabricated” information in a “hysterical media war conducted by the armed terrorist gangs and their mouthpieces.” The bloodshed and destruction though, are real enough.
Vetoes leave Syria headed for a bloody stalemate
By Randa Slim, Special to CNN, Sun February 5, 2012
… The double veto at the United Nations marks the beginning of the proxy regional game: armed opposition under the leadership of the Free Syrian Army — funded by Arab Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, trained by Turkey — waging a protracted fight against the pro-regime military and paramilitary groups funded and trained by Iran and Russia.
Despite recent limited success in defending restive cities and taking control of territory in places like Zabadani and Homs, the Free Syrian Army remains more a collection of disparate groups of defectors than it is an organized army. Its headquarters are in a refugee camp inside Turkey close to the Syrian border. The number of fighters is estimated to be in the range of 10,000 to 30,000.
To wage an effective military campaign against an army that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, they need weapons, training and operational support. Only when the regime’s military superiority is threatened will we start to see defections in its senior ranks….
Britain accused Russia and China of encouraging the Syrian regime’s “killing regime” after they vetoed a United Nations resolution seeking an end to the violent repression. Foreign Secretary William Hague joined international condemnation of their stance amid protests at Syrian embassies around the world that led to six arrests in London.
Anger was fuelled by a renewed assault on the city of Homs by security forces overnight which is thought to have killed upwards of 240 people in the bloodiest day of the 11-month crackdown.
Exposed: The Arab agenda in Syria
By Pepe Escobar in Asia times
So the report was either ignored (by Western corporate media) or mercilessly destroyed – by Arab media, virtually all of it financed by either the House of Saud or Qatar. It was not even discussed – because it was prevented by the GCC from being translated from Arabic into English and published in the Arab League’s website.
Until it was leaked. Here it is, in full.
The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines.
Uprising finally hits Aleppo – Reuters
Months of relative calm in Aleppo were shattered when shabbiha militiamen killed at least 10 people after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted last week in the city which, together with adjoining towns, has a population of several million people, activists said.
The killings, the deadliest in the city during the 11-month uprising, happened in the tribal Marjeh neighborhood after security forces fired at a rally demanding Assad’s removal, they said.
Some activists said those killed were all demonstrators while others said most were killed in clashes that followed the shooting on the protest.
“The difference between Aleppo and the rest of Syria is that Hassoun and the other clerics have remained quiet, and that the shabbiha the regime has recruited are actually Sunnis from the city, not Alawites,” one businessman in the city said.
Syrian Rebels’ Supply Lines
February 3, 2012 | Stratfor
To expand its operations in Syria, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) must secure supplies of weapons, food, water and other necessities. The most important supply lines for the rebels — though also the most difficult to maintain — come from Lebanon. The Syrian regime has a vast intelligence network in Lebanon to try to constrict this critical line of supply, but increasing activity across the Lebanese-Syrian border does not bode well for the Syrian regime’s defenses at home or its position in Lebanon.
Fighting over Syria at the UN
By Victor Kotsev
Some analysts say that the ongoing confrontation at the United Nations Security Council over Syria brings back memories from the Cold War; the analogy, however, is far from perfect. The face-off and all the bargaining that is apparently going on under the counter is more symptomatic of a situation where multiple players and alliances vie for power in a free-for-all brawl than of the bipolar world order that ended a little over two decades ago.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems doomed, but its day of reckoning might take some time to come….
The tyrant’s wife from Acton;
She’s British-born and raised, intelligent, liberal and beautiful – so why is she married to a President who has murdered 5,000 of his own people? Martin Fletcher explores the enigma of Asma Assad
Martin Fletcher, 3 February 2012, thetimes.co.uk
INSIGHT-Syria’s Assad set for long conflict
By Mariam Karouny, 3 February 2012
DAMASCUS, Feb 3 (Reuters) – With the enemy at the gates, Bashar al-Assad was dining out. The sound of gunfire and explosions carried to central Damascus as his troops clashed in the suburbs last Saturday with rebels who had seized towns near the capital. Masked gunmen erected checkpoints on the city outskirts. But Syria’s 46-year-old president, outwardly unfazed, put on a show of business as usual for fellow patrons of the smart downtown restaurant where he spent the weekend evening.
“He hasn’t changed his lifestyle,” said a politician from neighbouring Lebanon, a regular visitor to Syria, who has met Assad several times since the Syrian uprising began last March. “He spent the evening at a Damascus restaurant,” he added, speaking privately to Reuters about the president’s movements on Jan. 28, when the appearance of forces flying flags of the Free Syrian Army at the very edge of the capital had some, excitable, observers reckoning Assad’s life expectancy in just weeks…..