Comparisons are not always valid, but the Lebanese people cannot help but compare the Damascus and Aleppo bombings, and especially the clashes in Al Maza, to the circumstances that led to the Lebanese civil war. These clashes may pull Syria into the deep abyss that Lebanon has climbed out of. Lebanon itself remains at the precipice because some with connections to hostile foreign agendas might find it beneficial to push the country back into the darkness.
The spread of clashes to the heart of Damascus constitutes an important and dangerous development in the Syrian crisis. The capital is the only city that the regime could destroy without batting an eye; it is the seat of the regime and, supposedly, its stronghold. The regime might look for other havens for its leadership and institutions if Damascus is no longer safe for it. What transpired last Monday could serve as an early warning for the regime that the soldiers who have defected to the opposition are learning fast from their experiences, and are mounting serious attacks even before they improve their weaponry. Just as the regime set its sights on rebels in Hama, Homs, Rastan, and Idlib, so have the rebels spied on the regime’s failings and weaknesses. The battle is now an existential one for both sides.
Military defections have multiplied in the last few days. While some might argue the rates of defection are insignificant and will have no effect on the regime’s forces, this bleeding is ongoing and may influence army moral, in addition to presenting the regime with a militarily taxing challenge. In the next phase, Aleppo will openly and decisively join the rebellion, for both sides have deliberately armed its inhabitants during the past months. The regime, reassured by the two large cities’ unwillingness to join the rebellion, failed to sense the level of popular turmoil that permeated them, and failed to see the deterioration of living conditions following the forced closure of many businesses and the exodus of many business owners. Unfortunately, the prospect of civil war, which both the regime and opposition claimed would never materialize, now looms over Damascus, Aleppo, and elsewhere.
When the Arab League began its modest intervention in the Syrian crisis late last year, the rebellion took hold, as did the regime’s escalating efforts to repress it. When Arab observers arrived at the beginning of this year, a new phase was introduced but soon came to a screeching halt when the crisis was brought before the Security Council. In the transitional lull that occurred between the Arab and international initiatives, the regime attempted to militarily resolve the situation, committing massacres in Baba Amro and the suburbs of Idlib. As Kofi Annan’s mission entered its practical phase, especially in regards to a ceasefire, it became apparent that the regime, knowing it had the military advantage, would escalate the crisis to prevent the imposition of a political solution.
Russian military movements don’t appear to be aimed at ending the crisis, but rather appear to be desperate attempts to bolster a regime that Moscow realizes is drowning in its own mistakes. Yet Russia decided to act because the current expectations that Annan’s mission is doomed to fail will result in even worse eventualities. The regime may partition or fragment the country because its ambitions are limited to protecting its figures, family, and religious sect.