Is Syria's army cracking?

Submitted by Matthew on 15 June, 2011 - 10:25

The Syrian army is “cracking” under the pressure of the indomitable rebellion in the country, which continues despite over a thousand deaths and an estimated ten thousand people jailed.

Or so Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand estimate (Al Jazeera, 11 June). They cite reports from people who have fled over the border to Turkey, including defecting soldiers.

Joshua Landis, a US academic expert on Syria, is sceptical. “There is little evidence of wide-scale mutiny of Syrian soldiers. No solid evidence that they shot at each other... Individual soldiers do seem to have deserted. Some turned up in Turkey. They seem to have been instructed to exaggerate the defections...”

The rebellion remains hindered by the Assad dictatorship’s effective block on international news reporting, the lack of any clear political programme for the opposition beyond a call for democracy and Assad to go, and the almost-impossibility of generating forums for discussing further political ideas.

As the German weekly Die Zeit puts it in a round-up article:

“When would the revolution have won? When Assad goes? When he, his brother Maher, chief of the Republican Guard, and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who dominates the Syrian economy, go? When Article 8 of the Syrian constitution is removed, which guarantees the supremacy of the Ba’th party?”

An Israeli MP has said that members of the Syrian opposition have asked him for Israeli aid, and one Syrian exile opposition group, the “Reform Party” based in the USA, has said that Israel should hold on to the Golan Heights. Probably these reports are puffing up attitudes held by isolated individuals, or just invented, but who knows?

An article in the Asia Times (13 June) highlights the world power-politics dimensions of the Syrian crisis. Russia fears it will lose its only Mediterranean naval base, at Tartus, in Syria, and become more vulnerable to US military pressure.

Iran, Assad’s closest ally, and the Hezbollah movement, powerful in Lebanon, also stand to lose heavily if the dictatorship falls.

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