Is the Syrian regime nearing its end? Washington thinks so

Hisham Melhem

Published: Updated:

According to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “the erosion of the Syrian regime’s capabilities is accelerating.” True, the regime has managed to prevent the armed opposition from controlling major cities like Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, yet it is still incapable of getting the opposition out of areas surrounding these cities.

In his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper stated that the regime’s increasing weakness can be seen in “its territorial losses, military manpower and logistics shortages” and added that “the regime's aggressive violence and the deteriorating security conditions have led to increased civilian casualties.” For Clapper, the Syrian regime is likely to use chemical weapons against the people since it has not been able to stop the uprising through conventional means.

A fragile Lebanon

He argued that “Lebanon’s stability will remain fragile during the next year primarily because of the tensions triggered by the Syrian conflict” yet expected that Lebanon will be able to avoid destabilizing sectarian violence” even though “it is likely to experience occasional, localized clashes between pro- and anti-Assad sectarian militias.” He noted that “thus far, (Lebanese) political leaders have succeeded in muting popular outrage over the October 2012 bombing that killed a popular Sunni figure (Wessam al-Hassan), and the Lebanese Armed Forces remain effective at controlling small-scale violence.”

As for Iran’s role in Syria, Clapper said that the fall of the Assad regime in Syria would be a major strategic loss for Tehran and that is why it is getting more and more involved in Syria

Hisham Melhem

Clapper was discussing a report prepared by the U.S. Intelligence Community and which offers an assessment of the threats facing the U.S. worldwide. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert S. Mueller took part in the session.

Insurgents gaining strength

Speaking about Syrian opposition, Clapper said that “insurgent forces also have been gaining strength,” These groups, he pointed out, represent different ideologies and manifest different levels of power and the opposition is exerting effort to unite them all under one banner. The bad news, he added, is that “prolonged instability is also allowing al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front to establish a presence within Syria” with the growth of its numbers and strength. Clapper admitted that the al-Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, “is one of the best organized and most capable of the Sunni terrorist groups” and is acting smartly as it offers humanitarian aid to Syrian people in extremely harsh conditions. He also talked about foreign fighters who have been joining the conflict in Syria, another proof of how smart the al-Nusra Front is.

Clapper argued that Assad’s days on power are numbered even though the exact number of those days is not known, especially in the light of his insistence on remaining in power.

As for Iran’s role in Syria, Clapper said that “the fall of the Assad regime in Syria would be a major strategic loss for Tehran” and that is why it is getting more and more involved in Syria whether in terms of providing weapons and advice or training militias. The same, he said, applies to Hezbollah whose interests lie in keeping Syria under the grip of the current regime.

This article was first published in the Lebanon-based Annahar on March 13, 2013.

Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy, Middle East Report, Middle East Insight, and Middle East Policy. Melhem speaks regularly at college campuses, think tanks and interest groups on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, intra-Arab relations, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.