Three scenarios can be taken into account vis-a-vis the bomb blast that killed top Syrian military officials. The first one has to do with American-Israeli regional intelligence cooperation. The second could be a possible breakthrough by the Syrian Free Army. The third a presidential decision to liquidate the top leaders in view of leaked information about their refusal to use force against the Syrian people.
The third scenario seems to be the most likely one for a number of reasons. Defected Brig. Manaf Tlass said that some top leaders did not favor a military approach. They argued that the crisis was a political one and can only be resolved through dialogue. Additionally, although Moscow has been defending Assad, it discussed with the Syrian Army and some security officials the possibility of a military takeover and the delegation of the president’s powers to his deputy. The Russians also discussed the nomination of a prime minister from the military with executive powers.
Moscow also held talks with the opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood. It emerged that Russia’s interests in Syria rather than Assad was the obstacle in ending this crisis. The Russians have emphasized Assad on the need to either crush the opposition quickly or reach an understanding with them. Assad has asked the Russians a couple of months’ time to do the job.
After the bomb blast, the Russians advised Assad to leave Damascus and go to Latakiyah. Tehran urged Assad to bombard Aleppo and finish off the rebels. Their assessment was that Damascus was on the brink of collapse. Tehran did not find a way other than direct intervention. The Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah took part in the battle in Damascus. Rumors had it that one of those killed in the explosion was Qasim Suleimani — the head of the Iranian Jerusalem Squad.
Why is the possibility that Assad gave his consent to go ahead with the explosion most likely? First, according to verified information the killed leaders favored political option instead of military approach. As a result, rift emerged between two sides, one comprising Mahir Assad and his team and another comprising military officials and military intelligence. In view of this, Mahir Assad decided to liquidate the rivals. The bomb blast was carried out by the thugs from Shabiha.
Evidence suggests that neither the first scenario nor the second was possible for the following reasons: The Iranian-Hezbollah-Russian intelligence had intensified their efforts to offer the Syrian government with sufficient information. Second, there was a security decision to limit the number of senior officials who attend important meetings. Also the meetings are held in closed operational room at the Republican Guard. Coupled with this was the decision to keep low profile in communication.
Moscow told Assad that the West was adamant to bring about change in Syria. For this to materialize, the West is likely to act outside the Security Council. For this reason, Damascus conducted military drills with missiles carrying chemical warheads. Such weapons were distributed to the special battalion.
The regime moved weapons and munitions to the mountain area and abandoned military control of some areas especially Qamishili. The regime handed over the control of the area to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for two reasons. First, to show people that dividing Syria is possible and secondly, to find a safe haven for the PKK to harm the Turkish security. Iran could also secretly take part in this mission and that would enable Assad to use his army in more important and vital places.
In another development, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria convened a number of conferences in Istanbul, Amman and Cairo to discuss the situation in a post-Assad Syria. The international community has called on the opposition to forge unity while the Arab League has called on Assad to step down in return for a safe exit for him and his family. The Arab League has also asked the General Assembly to recommend the establishment of separate areas and to severe all kinds of relationship with the current Syrian regime.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Free Army announced that an electronic communication unit managed to locate where Assad resides and that it is in the process of besieging him. The Free Army has a plan to control all roads that lead to the Syrian airport to prevent Assad from fleeing. The question is how much time Assad needs to leave Syria?
At the same time, Prince Bandar bin Sultan was appointed head the Saudi intelligence. Prince Bandar is a very calm personality and loves to work while keeping a low profile. He is known for striking winning deals with Moscow, China, and Iran.
Now there are four options. The first one is the Arab League option for Assad to step down and to safely leave Syria. The second option is the “Iranian Samson” that calls on Assad to bombard Aleppo and take the battle into Turkey.
Iran seeks to cause anarchy to survive and send weapons to Hezbollah. Third, the Russian option that calls on the army to take over and form a military council like the one in Egypt. The fourth option is to work outside the framework of the Security Council.
The question is whether Assad will use chemical weapons? Will Hezbollah respond to the Iranian pressure and begin a tough war with Israel? The two options will be insanity. First, they are not possible without international intervention, and this is ruled out for the time being. There will be of course some qualitative support for the free army and to weaken the regime from within.
On top of that, Moscow promised Tel Aviv to act on the two matters. First, Hezbollah will not fire against Israel unless the latter interferes militarily in either Syria or Lebanon. Second, Putin conveyed a message from Iran to Israel in which Iran said that it would not target Israel unless the latter attacked Iran.
But the bigger question has to do with regional and international interests. The end of Assad means the end of Hezbollah and the retreat of Iran’s influence and the dwindling of the Russian role. It means the restoration of balance in Iraq. Interestingly, President Mursi of Egypt asked Khaled Meshaal not to get dragged and fight Israel and not to entangle Egypt behind Iranian schemes in the region. Therefore, time is critical for both Iran and Syria despite the friendly statements of Larijani toward Saudi Arabia. Now we should discuss the future of Syria and the future of the region calmly. We should also call on the United States to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict because it is the root of all crises in the region.
(This article was first published in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News on July 28.)