Christopher Lee writes from London: It is Armed Forces Day in Syria and their commander-in-chief, President Bashar al-Assad, is in a military, political and personal bunker. In Whitehall, analysts say the Syrian leader cannot handle the truth.
Al-Assad has issued a decree to mark the Armed Forces Day that basically says that his troops are to be praised for facing off what he calls ‘terrorists’. But – and it’s a big but – no one should be in any doubt that what is going on will decide the future or even fate of Syria.
Meanwhile, the army’s orders are very clear: destroy anything and everything and anyone and everyone in order to stop the rebels taking control over Aleppo. The truth is that the rebels, the Free Syrian Army, don’t have the heavy weaponry they need to overcome President’s al-Assad’s troops. They might be able to take control, street by street, district by district of Aleppo, but there is no military analysis that says they could hold the city for long.
And so, on present evidence, President Bashar al-Assad and his brother, General Maher al-Assad, will continue to blast Syria apart, stone by stone, wall by wall, roof by roof, to smithereens. Syria may be turned to rubble if the President’s dynasty is allowed to fight for its survival. Not to mention the dead people.
So-called reliable sources (there cannot be such sources in a war of this kind) claim that since the uprising began in March 2011 some 20,000 have been killed. Refugees trekked away in tens of thousands. Now they’re on the move in their hundreds of thousands.
When hopefuls talk about Syria getting back to normal they should reflect that there is no normal Syria any more. And if they think a rebel regime would be better, then the answer is that the rebels would not be the same as the al-Assads, but they could easily be worse. The blood will continue to be shed for the foreseeable future.
There is an equally important although not equally tragic element to this conflict: if al-Assad goes, so does Iran’s most powerful ally in the region.
When the Arab Spring spread from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, the Iranians saw their 1979 rebellion as the example to follow. Anything they believed would be possible.
But they had not imagined that their closest ally, Syria, may fall. Even as unlikely allies, particularly the difference between a religious and secular society, their regional interests were common. Together they had confronted Saddam Hussein of Iraq, indeed Iran did so militarily toe-to-toe for eight bloody years. They faced up to the unflinching ambition of Israel to defend its borders (Syria is on the Golan Heights border with Israel) and regional security – Iran’s nuclear programme is the number one threat for Israel.
Some of the tasks were simple. Israel was kept under pressure by the common interest of Syria and Iran to arm the Palestinians, Hamas and Hezbollah factions. The diplomatic alliance was as sound as was its security element. Syria, in fact, provided a longer arm for Iran’s military protection.
So we can see what is happening in Syria is viewed with absolute consternation in Tehran. The Syrian civil war is a war by proxy for Iran. Syria is Iran’s only close ally. The alarming fact for Iranian regional policy makers is that if the al-Assads fall then so does an already hard-tested strand of Iranian security in the Middle East.
Further afield, when the Saudi Arabians and Qataris call for support for the Syrian opposition and even go as far as to suggest it should be better armed, this position is not solely designed to bring down the Syrian First Family. There are many Gulf States vulnerable to Iranian-backed terrorism or future uprisings that see this as a second proxy war. To those largely Sunni-controlled Gulf States nervous of growing Shia Iranian inspired opposition, the success of the Free Syrian Army will be at least a temporary success against Iran.
What is going on in Aleppo says President al-Assad will define the fate of Syria, which is why his message to his army was read even more eagerly by many others in the region knowing that this conflict is indeed their conflict.