WASHINGTON — Contrary to all predictions of its imminent collapse, the Damascus regime has turned out to be very resilient. But the events of last week signal that it is now the beginning of the end. The bombing attack of July 18, when members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner-circle were assassinated, was a real shock for the regime. With these attacks, the opposition gained much more than they did during the 16-month-long popular uprising. These attacks challenged the Assad regime at its roots. Because of these attacks, a different perception about the regime might emerge from the key segment of the Syrian society.
Who is this key segment?
The key to survival of the regime are the Alawites, upper-class Sunnis and Christians. Their perception of an indefatigable Assad is faltering. This is a crucial change. Changes in perceptions lead to change of realities, since these perceptions create their own reality.
Last tango in Damascus now focuses on one vital question: What kind of Syria after Assad? The answer to this question relies very much on how the collapse process of the regime will take place.
This final phase of the Syrian crisis, which started after the explosion of last week, could be very bloody. If Alawites and other forces supporting the regime decide that they have nothing to lose, we are in for a much bloodier conflict. They would retreat to western Syria whose center is Latakia and continue their fight there. What about other regions? Kurds would declare autonomy in the north and there will be ethnic cleansing and armed clashes in regions where the Sunnis and Alawites live together.
In short, Syria might enter into a bloodier phase. I would like to remind readers of the post-Saddam era Iraq for those who don’t find this pessimist scenario realistic. Almost 20,000 people have died in Syria over the past 16 months. We call this a civil war. However, in 2006, the same number of people were dying in Iraq every month. Real civil wars are the ones experienced in countries like Iraq and Yugoslavia where hundreds of thousand people died.
This is the pessimistic scenario, what about the more optimistic one? If the last tango in Damascus ends without blood and the country is not dragged into a massive civil war, the Geneva process might kick in. What do we mean with the term Geneva process?
This is an agreement among all the powers in the region including the US, Russia, China and Turkey. This agreement was reached three weeks ago and it may be the last life saver for Assad.
In Washington, it is now all about boosting the military strength of the opposition and getting the Geneva process moving. But they first seek answers to two questions: First, the fate of Syria's chemical and biological weapons. The second what advice Iran is giving to Assad. The answers to these questions will be revealed in coming weeks.