Events in Syria have taken quite a dramatic turn in July. First, was the reported massacre of Palestinians aligned with the PLO in the capital of Damascus. This was a flag that Assad and the Baath Party were weak, as the PLO had taken a neutral position regarding the Syrian government --in the capital city! It was widely suspected that Basher Assad's thugs had taken matters into their own hands.
Then on July 7th, Syria's ambassador to Iraq defected, joining the revolution. At about the same time, the Tlass family (a critical compenent of support within the Baath Party and close advisors to Assad) also switched its allegiance. On July 18th, the most dramatic event happened. The National Security Headquarters was bombed, and four top level Syrian defense and military officials were killed while having a meeting. One of those was Assad's own brother in law, who was deputy defense minister.
There are two competing narratives to this boardroom killing. One is that Assad ordered the hit himself as he got wind that the four bigwigs were plotting a coup. The other narrative is that a rebel mole inside the Syrian Ministry of Defense carried out the bombing. Either way, this is bad news for the Assad regime.
Syrian rebels hold strongholds in Aleppo despite the government's intensification of savagery-- starting with Assad's steroid filled Ghost thugs, moving to Russian tanks to helicopter gunships, and now combat fighter jets. And the rebels are ensconced in the outskirts of the capital -- unable to be dislodged. The Syrian government has said that it will only deploy nerve gas against "outside forces." This is not comforting.
On July 20th, even Russia began to change its tune. Vladimir Putin made a public statement saying that Basher Assad should go, but that he should be shielded from any International Criminal Court action. As Syria's strongest supporter (and chief weapons supplier) it's clear that the handwriting is getting to be on the wall for the entire nest of thugs and thieves that make up the Baath Party and the Assad government.
Oh, were it only so easy. There are an estimated 130 rebel factions in the country, and some have ties to Hezbollah and Al Queda. While Turkish and Jordanian intelligence forces may have some idea as to who the "good guys" are, the CIA more or less admits that it doesn't have a clue on its own as to who to support and who to shun, depending on them to shuttle military intelligence and high tech communications equipment to.
TROUBLE FOR THE BROADER MIDDLE EAST
While Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey have been arming the rebels, Iran and factions of Lebanon have been assisting the government. Ordinarily a proxy war is fairly manageable. But like the bloody conflict in Central Africa and the Congo, this proxy battle threatens to spill all over the place due to artificial colonial boundaries.Syria's boundaries were established during the Treaty of Versailles after World War I for the convenience of British and French imperialist ambitions.
In an ongoing poll of over 200o people with a serious interest in the region on the blog Syria Comment, 63% clearly believe that neither the rebels nor government forces will predominate after Assad falls. Instead what is envisioned are pockets of the country under Baath control, while other pockets will be under whatever rebel control there is. With Syria's ethnic diversity, this pretty much guarantees a state of all against all until such time in the distant future that the dust settles.
Take for example the ongoing problems that both the Turks and Iraqis have with the Kurds. Syria's Kurds will no doubt inflame tensions in both of these countries. Similarly, Syrian Palestinians will be a source of unrest for the Jordanian government. But most of all, Syria's Lebanon connection will be a significant source of danger to Israel. It's impossible to predict what Hezbollah or other Lebanese factions will do when Assad falls.
Last but not least, are the two largest sugar daddies of the Syrian conflict. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have insecure, geriatric governments sitting on top of minority communities that are pressure cookers. The assessment is that Iran is particularly hysterical at the thought of losing Basher Assad as an ally. And recent developements in the attack of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and an attempted attack on Israelis in Cyprus does not bode well.
At some point in time in the distant happy future, it is assumed that a combination of Arab League, United Nations, and Russian peace keepers will occupy the country and attempt nation building. Some diplomats eventually see the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood taking power once peace can be enforced. But for the meantime, the answer as to what will happen next in Syria is, "Nobody knows."
From my perspective, this is a perfect time to reflect on the benefits of isolationism in American foreign policy in this area. As I see it, in almost any way that the US acts, it will be screwed. And it will probably make matters worse if it attempts to intervene.
Another revolution that once got Western support was in 1917 in Russia, and any student of history will be able to tell you how that worked out from 1917 to 1923.