Assad’s Army Unlikely to “Crumble”

WINEP and Wikistrat analysts predict that Assad and his army will “fall”, “crumble”, or “break”. I have argued the opposite in “Creating a Syrian Swamp: Assad’s ‘Plan B’“.  A likely outcome of the Syrian struggle is that Assad and his army will not break; rather, they will likely retreat to the coastal region, where Alawite and loyal troops have a social base. They would be very hard to destroy on their home base, especially if foreign allies continue to support them with weapons and money. Should this happen, Syria’s civil war could end more like Lebanon’s — with a stalemate — rather than like Libya’s — with the death of the dictator and destruction of his military.

If Sunni Arab rebels manage to unify or if foreign powers intervene directly, the survival of Assad’s military is unlikely.

Here is a bit of what I wrote on Aug. 10:

In order to survive, Assad and his Alawite generals will struggle to turn Syria into Lebanon – a fractured nation, where no one community can rule. He may lose Syria, but could still remain a player, and his Alawite minority will not be destroyed. Today, Junblat, Geagea, Gemayyal, Franjia and other warlords are respected members of parliament and society. All might have been taken to the international court and charged with crimes against humanity two decades ago. After all, somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 Lebanese were killed out of a population of three million during the civil war. When the Lebanese came to terms with the fact that no one camp could impose its rule over the others, they had no choice but to bury the hatchet and move forward.

If Assad surrenders, hundreds of regime leaders will be executed or tried for crimes against their fellow countrymen. The broader Alawite community fears the possibility of aimless retribution. To avoid this, Assad is likely to pursue the Lebanon option: turn Syria into a swamp and create chaos out of Syria’s sects and factions. It is a strategy of playing upon divisions to sow chaos. Already the Syrian Army has largely been transformed into an Alawite militia. If Assad must withdraw from Damascus, he will have nowhere to fall back on but Latakia and the coastal mountains. I have argued that the Alawite region cannot be turned into an independent state, but it does provide Assad and the remnants of the Syrian Army a social base. Just as Lebanon’s Maronites did not create an independent state in the Lebanon Mountains, they did use it to deny Muslim forces undivided supremacy over Lebanon. The Syrian opposition will have difficulty defeating Assad’s army. This is certainly true if opposition forces remain as fragmented as they are today. Assad is gambling on his enemies being unable to unite. He is working assiduously to turn Syria into a swamp in order to save what he can of his power and the lives of those around him.

If Assad is successful in this ambition, there will be no clear endgame to the fighting in Syria. Syria’s Baathist regime cannot survive. It is already collapsing. Most state institutions are no longer functioning. Order has broken down in many parts of the country. New authorities are springing up as the old disappear. But Assad’s army in its transformed state is likely to remain a powerful force.

Addendum:Email from a reader

I was just reading your latest post, and I think that WINEP’s assessment shows how out of touch they are with the Syrian mosaic. My husband, [a Sunni Damascene] has Alawi family friends, and one of them has just joined an Alawi militia. According to my husband’s cousin, who works for Rami Makhlouf, this militia is being funded by Makhlouf, and each volunteer gets paid money and get training and weapons. Of course, this person is in Lattakia, which supports your claim that they will probably unify in the coastal region.

I am just beginning to realize how sectarian characterizations are just the surface of everything. Yes, my husband’s friend is Alawi, but they had grown up together. They had known each other since they were babies. We were talking about this the other day. What if my husband had stayed behind and joined the Free Syrian Army? What if they ended up having to fight each other? How horrible would that be, for brothers to kill each other? My husband is not the only one who is suffering from these thoughts. There are so many of my friends who have had dear Alawi friends, and they had to watch those friends become soldiers who kill their fellow Syrians. It’s not easy, especially when those friends die. You just don’t know how to feel.

Answer to Observer’s Question in the Comment Section

Dear Observer, You write:

My question to Dr. Landis is whether falling back on the coast is a realistic survival strategy for Assad and the Alawis? In Lebanon there is enough of everyone to make everyone never achieve a full control, is it possible in Syria once the levers of power are no longer in the hands of the Alawis?…”

Your question is a good one, if the Assad military loses Damascus how will it be able to sustain itself as a viable fighting force with nothing but the miniscule economy of the Alawi Mountains to sustain it? The second part of your question is how can the Alawi 12% of the population withstand the 70% Sunni Arabs?

You are correct to ask these questions. Assad cannot afford such a fighting force without the financing that comes from owning Syria. The only way he can sustain his military without owning Syria is if Iran chooses to fund him as it does Hizbullah, which it might well do.

Question 2: Assad and the Alawis cannot defend against the 70% Sunni Arabs. You are right but that statement presupposes that “the Sunni Arabs” will fight as one and will unify. There is no sign that they will. Perhaps they will some day, but that day is still too far away to predict its arrival with any certainty.

I certainly cannot predict the future either, but I play this game because so many analysts remain convinced that Assad and his army will crumble that it seems reasonable to question their assumptions. As of yet, I do not see a force that can destroy or best Assad’s Army. Damascus and Aleppo are increasingly becoming ungovernable.

News Summary


“Hundreds of analysts at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced geopolitical consulting firm, recently forecasted… that … The most plausible scenarios portray a slow-but-continuous decline of the regime until Assad falls. At that point, the opposition’s divisions and conflicting goals imply Libyan-style post-war difficulties.”

Syria at War: Views from the Turkish and Lebanese Borders
Andrew J. Tabler and Jeffrey White, September 13, 2012 WINEP

As the regime contracts and eventually crumbles, opposition fighters on the ground are poised to determine the course of Syrian politics.

… Particularly in northern Lebanon, tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are palpable. Conversations with fighters in these areas exhibit a more sectarian hue than ever before, with individuals freely admitting that they are fighting not just Assad, but also Shiites from Iran, Hizballah, and even Iraq.

…. Looking ahead, Assad’s regime will fall when his forces break — and the Syrian army is on its way to breaking. The government is still determined to hold the entire country, and this over-commitment is bound to place unbearable stress on its capabilities. In the meantime, unfortunately, the regime is consciously inflicting causalities on civilians in an effort to break the connection between the populace and the armed opposition. If it succeeds in that effort, even if only on a local level, it will have made an important gain.

In Syria’s largest city, rebellion takes on an overtly religious tone
By David Enders | McClatchy Newspapers

ALEPPO, Syria — Two months into the battle for Syria’s second largest city, the airstrikes have become a part of daily life. Sometimes they are deadly accurate, taking out the rebels for whom they are intended. Just as often, they seem to miss.

A rebel headquarters in a former police station in the northeastern neighborhood of Hanano stands as testament to this. Though its windows are all broken, it has been missed at least four times, the intended strikes landing in a nearby park, an empty lot and destroying a five-story apartment building a full block away.

The battle for Aleppo that began with a rebel offensive in mid-July has settled into a stalemate. The rebels here control largely the same neighborhoods they took in the initial offensive. But there is something different here – a distinctly religious tone that this reporter hadn’t heard elsewhere in more than seven months covering Syria’s rebellion…..

“This is not a revolution, it’s a jihad,” shouted one man, angry, as he stood near the rubble of the apartment building mentioned above. Behind him, men worked with a bulldozer, trying to reach people they believed were still alive under the rubble….

Liwa Tawhid, one of the largest groups fighting here, had even made contingencies for policing rebel controlled neighborhoods and laid out plans to set up schools. Their plan for schooling includes religious instruction, and their council for making decisions about the fate of prisoners includes an expert in Islamic law.

At a mosque being used as a base for fighters in another neighborhood, a sign warning civilians against entering was another sign of the religious drift. The sign referred to the men inside as “mujahidin,” which translates as holy warriors, as opposed to “thowar,” which means revolutionaries.

Last Tuesday, at another rebel base, members of Ahrar al Sham, a group whose members describe themselves as Salafis, followers of a conservative strain of Islam some of whose followers also are thought behind last week’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, handed out leaflets delineating the difference between mujahids and other rebels. It used the pejorative term “shabiha” – a Syrian word that usually refers to pro-government militiamen accused of carrying out some of the war’s worst atrocities – to refer to non-mujahids.

The leaflet had multiple aims, including criticizing rebels who might loot or use their weapons carelessly. But it also explained that a mujahid prays, and “Knows very well that God will give us victory if we apply his law by studying it and spread it between people nicely.”

The mujahid “Uses his weapon to support the oppressed people and their rights in a way that God accepts and nothing else,” the document continued…..

In Aleppo, Jabhat al Nusra, another Salafi group that has been known primarily for claiming bombings against government targets, is an actual fighting force here, with an identifiable base of operations from which it carries out guerrilla strikes. Members of the group declined interviews.

“We are fighting only for God,” one of them said, refusing to be identified. “Not to be in the press.”

But they know what their image is outside Syria. “They say in the West we are Al Qaida,” one Jabhat fighter scoffed, meaning it as a denial.

Read more here:

Nadim Houry ‏@nadimhoury: Head of Aleppo Revolutionary Council told @hrw that they do not torture detainees but beating on soles of feet “permissible” #Syria

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, said that his forces were playing only an “intellectual and advisory” role, but that they will offer military assistance in the event of external intervention. “We are proud to defend Syria, which constitutes a resistance to the Zionist entity,” Jafari told reporters in Tehran.

manaf Now online live

Syria: Christians take up arms for first time
Sept. 12 (Telegraph) — Christian communities in Aleppo have taken up arms and formed their own militias for the first time, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
By Ruth Sherlock, Carol Malouf in Beirut, 12 Sep 2012

…. “Everybody is fighting everybody,” said George, an Armenian Christian from the city. “The Armenians are fighting because they believe the FSA are sent by their Turkish oppressors to attack them, the Christians want to defend their neighbourhoods, Shabiha regime militia are there to kill and rape, the army is fighting the FSA, and the [Kurdish militant group] PKK have their own militia too.”

For the past six weeks up to 150 Christian and Armenian fighters have been fighting to prevent Free Syrian Army rebels from entering Christian heartland areas of Aleppo.

Last month the Syrian army claimed a ‘victory’ in removing FSA fighters from the historic Christian quarter of Jdeidah. But Christian

militia fighters told the Daily Telegraph it was they who had first attacked the FSA there.

“The FSA were hiding in Farhat Square in Jdeideh. The Church committees stormed in and cleansed the area. Then the Syrian army

joined us. They claimed the victory on State television,” said George, who like many Christian refugees is too scared to give his full name. “The rebels were threatening the churches.”

….Seeing little hope of change many Christians have already joined the hundreds of thousands who have fled the country. The UN High Commission for Refugees said 253,000 Syrians were now registered with them. Many Christians say they hold little hope of returning.

An Aleppo Assyrian writes me:

The Daily Telegraph on September 10th ran an article titled “Syria: Christians take up arms for first time”. But the article talks mainly about Aleppo Christians. It is not the first time for Syrian Christians. It is the first time for Aleppo Christians. I have always said that if the Assyrians in Iraq had 1,000 fighters in Baghdad and 1,000 fighters in Mosul, none of the bad things would have happened to them and other Christians. The Assyrian tribes there were disarmed in 1933. In Baghdad and Mosul, the Christians are spread among Muslims in almost every neighborhood. This would have been difficult to accomplish. Aleppo is different. The Christians in Aleppo inhabit 10 contiguous neighborhoods, all in the north half of Aleppo, 5 dominated completely and 5 have Christian majorities in them. The daily Telegraph mentions 150 Christian fighters in Aleppo. We need 1,500…..

Ex-CIA Dir. Hayden: Syria struggle is mainly sectarian, and the longer it continues, the stronger al Qaeda’s role.

Video: The sorrows of Syria – Michael Provence does a good job of giving an overview of the revolution so far.

DARIYA, Syria — As he hid from soldiers in a field next to his neighborhood, a young man watched as a cat wandered down a street. Suddenly, it was shot dead. That’s when Zuhair noticed the sniper on a nearby roof.But a father and son walking along the street didn’t see the gunman, Zuhair said. The sniper lowered his head and peered through his scope.He shot the boy first. As the man tried to grab his son, who looked to be about 10, he was shot as well.The two are among a reported 700 victims of snipers, shelling and summary executions, most of them men, since forces loyal to President Bashar Assad stormed the Damascus suburb of Dariya in late August, one in a growing list of Syrian towns and villages that briefly enter the world’s spotlight, only to be replaced by another one when a new mass killing is committed.Unlike a massacre by government forces three decades earlier in the city of Hama, which left more than 20,000 dead in just three weeks and still haunts the country, the reported atrocities have been spread over months of bloodshed in Syria. That has led some to call the government campaign a kind of slow-motion Hama…..
Turks in Hatay province rally against Syrian refugees
by Jacob Resneck, Yasemin Ergin and Bradley Secker,Special for USA TODAY

Police immediately moved in to disperse the unauthorized rally as up to 5,000 demonstrators flew banners in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and called for the expulsion of the more than 80,000 Syrian refugees that have flooded into Turkey over the past 18 months.

The protest reflects the increased polarization among Turks who are skeptical of their government’s confrontation with its Arab neighbor. The Hatay province borders Syria and somewhat mirrors its ethnic composition of Alawites, Turkish and Arab Sunni Muslims, and Christians. And many there have ethnic and religious ties to minorities in Syria and are distrustful of those who seek Assad’s ouster.

“The polarization going on in Syria — you can see the same situation going on in Hatay,” said Oytun Orhan, ….”The war in Syria has seriously affected our local economies, many businesses have gone bankrupt,” he said. “We want war to end so the region can recover. And supporting the opposition hasn’t helped bringing an end to war.”

Death from the skies
The Economist, 15 September 2012

Aerial attacks also have the advantage of depending on a part of the armed forces which is almost entirely controlled by Alawites, the sect to which the Assad family adheres. Mr Assad’s father, Hafez, ran the air force before he launched the coup that brought him to power in 1970. It is reasonably well equipped, with perhaps 325 aeroplanes that can be used for ground attack and 33 helicopter gunships, and its personnel are thought less prone to defection than army officers have proved…..

Syrian Central Bank’s Foreign Reserves Enough for Years, PM Says
2012-09-13, By Donna Abu-Nasr

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) — Syria’s central bank has foreign reserves that are enough for “years,” Prime Minister Wael Al- Halaqi told state television in remarks aired today. Al-Halaqi said rumors that Syria’s currency is weakening are “baseless.” He said the central bank has 600 billion Syrian pounds ($8.9 billion) in its coffers.

9/12/12 7:09 PM
Total of 34,000 emails leaked today from the Central Bank and the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

Foreign Fighters Bring a Global Agenda to Syria
Jamestown: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 17
September 13, 2012, By: Chris Zambelis

Great uncertainty continues to shroud the ideological composition of the insurgency that is raging across Syria. The motivations of the rank-and-file of the Free Syrian Army (FSA – the armed wing of the Syrian National Council [SNC] opposition movement) and the constellation of factions that claim to be fighting under its auspices, are provoking serious concern.  Displays of sectarianism, expressions of Salafist dogma and a spate of improvised explosive device (IED) and suicide attacks redolent of al-Qaeda that are occurring with growing frequency in Syrian cities, validate fears of the presence of radical Islamists within the armed opposition. Islamist militants fighting under the FSA banner or with Syrian organizations harboring expressly radical Islamist agendas such as Jabhat al-Nusrah and Kataib al-Ahrar al-Sham are making their presence felt in the insurgency (al-Akhbar [Beirut], August 6).  [1]

Allegations that foreign-born radical Islamist militants hailing from around the globe are streaming into Syria, are appearing with increasing regularity in media accounts of the conflict in Syria (al-Jazeera [Doha], August 23; al-Akhbar, July 26). Since the start of the uprising, influential radical Islamist ideologues as diverse as al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, exiled Syrian Salafist cleric Sheikh Adnan al-Arour and Lebanon’s Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal have appealed to Muslims to travel to Syria to fight the Ba’athist regime (al-Arabiya [Dubai], February 12; Daily Star [Beirut], April 16). Al-Qaeda’s Iraq-based affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and the Algeria-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have also interjected themselves into the campaign by publicly declaring their solidarity with the insurgency. AQIM commander Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud (a.k.a. Abdelmalek Droukdel) issued a video statement in August lamenting the Algerian government’s position on the crisis in Syria and the predicament of Syrian refugees in Algeria (Al-Andalus Media Foundation, August 27) Abu Hussam al-Shami (a.k.a. Abd al-Aziz al-Kourkli), the commander of the Khilafah Brigades of Lebanon’s Fatah al-Islam militant group, was killed near Damascus earlier this month ( [Beirut], September 8). …..

Mideast Unrest Intensifies Debate on U.S. Intervention in Syria
By ROBERT F. WORTH and HELENE COOPER, NYTimes, September 16, 2012

DOHA, Qatar — In recent weeks, the growing death toll in Syria pushed that country’s civil war to the top of the Obama administration’s agenda, with some Arab leaders pressing harder for a greater American role in toppling Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad…..

Will US aid keep Syria from becoming more religious and radical?


Other fighters assert that the strength of the religious fighting groups here has more to do with the fact they appear to be better financed than other groups. “Many people join Ahrar al Sham and Jabhat al Nusra because they have money and weapons,” said one fighter who declined to be named with Suqqor al Sham, another rebel group fighting here.

He said he believed the religious conservatives will lose their fervor once the fighting was done

Syria Debates Again Mazout Distribution Policy – Syria Report

Syria’s policy on the sale of gas oil, or mazout, is again this year a source of all sorts of rumours and debates as the winter season nears.

Syrian Pound Loses Some Ground against Dollar – Syria Report

Syria’s national currency has lost some ground in recent days with the US dollar currently trading at around 72 pounds in black market dealings.

Comments (102)

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101. ann said:

Donate to help Syrian Christians made homeless by islamist terrorists, and their masters

Dear Friend,

“So many people, especially families, forced to flee from their own homes, threatened by armed conflicts and by grave forms of violence.” – The Holy Father

These words from the Holy Father are being lived right now by our fellow faithful in Syria. We have just received an urgent appeal from the Church there for emergency aid to help rescue 500 families from Homs who were forced to flee the violence and chaos now happening in their country. Terrified families fled with only the clothes on their backs—there was no time to pack food or medicine or even children’s toys.

Right now, these 500 refugee families from Homs are seeking refuge in the Christian town of Marmarita, near the Lebanese border. The Church is their only hope. “Christians are in a desperate situation,” said His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III, Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church. He is doing all he can to provide for these poor men, women and children, who are displaced and dejected, tired and terrified. But the need is great. Please help today.

A gift of $30 will supply one family food for a month; $90 will provide food for a family for six months; $10 can provide needed medicine for a sick and frightened child, while $150 could help provide temporary housing. Your gift now will help bring aid and hope to those who have nothing, and let them know that we, their fellow Christians, stand with them and witness their suffering

We have pledged $100,000 to help these families.
Will you help us fulfill our goal? Donate Now


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September 18th, 2012, 4:48 pm


102. Atheist Syrian Salafist Against Dictatorships said:

The number of activists behind bars has reached 216,000 (11/9/12) according to one of the committees (Darayya) keeping track.

“I’m not just a number among the 216,000 in your prisons…”

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September 18th, 2012, 11:15 pm


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