Why the tables have turned on Assad

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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What has altered the situation in Syria to the point that the Russians, whom the world called on to stop arming the regime, are now the ones calling on the world to stop arming the rebels and warning of the conflict’s graveness?

The Iranians had to communicate again with countries on the other side. The tables were turned and president Bashar al-Assad had to admit his ordeal in Damascus. It is Assad who is currently speaking about the capital's battle and his preparations for it. During his meeting with his state journalists a few days ago, it was him who advised his journalists to focus their reporting on a "peaceful solution" with the rebels.

Game changer

What was it that turned the tables?

During the past five months, the game has changed, and more players joined it. The rebels have more and better arms, and they have also received a lot of ammunition, intelligence data and political support. Five months ago, that is a year and a half after the revolution erupted, the latter turned from being an individualistic enthusiasm to an organized military group work. This is how the situation of the war changed in the past few months as the rebels received huge amounts of weapons - an amount no one else received before in the history of modern wars in a phase like this one!

If Assad had read the biographies of other dictators, he would have known that they had made one fatal mistake: failing to sense danger.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Weapons are not the reason but the result. The first reason is that everyone admitted that there is a war in Syria that cannot be stopped. A majority of Syrians is determined to topple the regime no matter how long it takes and no matter how much blood is shed. The second reason is that others options, particularly that of a peaceful solution, proved their failure to end the war. Mediators tried to convince Assad to step down and hand power to the Syrian people in order to maintain the country's security, decrease suffering and prevent chasing others in exchange for his own safety and his group's safety. It is for this purpose that the U.N. dispatched Lakhdar Brahimi. Consultations were held with the Russians and the situation even reached the phase of negotiations over organizing Assad and his family's departure to an exile of their choice. Algeria was the most likely option. But whenever negotiators reached achieving a peaceful solution, Assad intentionally sabotaged the attempt. And so, after all peaceful solutions failed, opposing parties, except for Assad's allies, resorted to the only choice left to end the tragedy and that is supporting the revolution in all means possible.

More players

What changed the situation is that more players got involved in the past few months. They implemented this policy and turned it into reality. They imposed the rebels as a group capable of toppling the regime and not only disturbing it. They funded the rebels and helped them organize. They established linked military entities. And suddenly, areas like Raqqa, Aleppo, Daraa, the Golan Heights and Homs became areas outside the regime's control. We all saw how a revolution without support maintains a state of mutiny for so long, like the case is with the Tamil insurgents in Sri Lanka, the separatists in Chechnya and dozens of other armed groups which do not have the ability to achieve decisive solutions but capable of remaining a source of insecurity for their rivals for decades.

Assad, with his ego and ignorance, pushed others to work against him. After he insisted to stay in power and after he failed negotiations, he pushed his troops to commit massacres on a semi-daily basis. Assad thought the Russians and Iranians are capable of protecting him, and he thought the hesitant West will continue to be its silent ally.

However, he now sees that being toppled is a mission which is very possible to accomplish. Rebels march towards the capital every day and they are about to besiege the capital although his troops still control about 70% of the country. Rebels from different brigades began infiltrating it in huge numbers. Their armed power helped them target the airport, presidential palaces and security institutions. There are almost daily battles across its neighborhoods. These battles forced the regime to alter its strategy and thus it launched attacks against neighborhoods it thinks rebels are based in them.

If Assad had read the biographies of other dictators, he would have known that they had made one fatal mistake: failing to sense danger. Saddam Hussein never believed the Americans were serious about invading Iraq and toppling him, and Muammar Qaddafi thought that the expansive deals he made with the West will be his ticket towards their cooperation with him. This is why both men were toppled, and this is why they lost resorting to less harmful options. Assad thought that Arab countries' support of the revolution was only one through television stations and diplomatic propaganda, and he thus failed in taking these countries' warnings and contacts seriously.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 7, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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