Feature

A body blow for Assad’s regime

A rebel bomb attack killed at least three members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.

Syria’s 17-month uprising entered a dramatic new phase this week, after a rebel bomb attack killed at least three members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, including his brother-in-law and the country’s defense minister. The blast at the heavily guarded National Security headquarters raised fresh doubts about the government’s ability to maintain control of Damascus, which has been rocked by days of continuous fighting between government troops and rebel forces. According to Syrian state television, the dead included Daoud Rajha, the defense minister; Asef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law and closest security adviser; and Hassan Turkmani, a senior military aide. Syrian officials blamed the explosion on a suicide bomber—possibly a ministerial bodyguard—but the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed that it had planted the bomb and detonated it remotely from outside the building.

This is the beginning of the end, said James Blitz in the Financial Times. Until now, few high-ranking members of the government have been willing to abandon Assad, “mainly because of the violent retribution that the regime pledges against the families of those who defect.” But now that the rebels have proved they can strike at the very core of the command structure, “many Assad loyalists may feel they have nothing to lose” by switching sides.

Assad depended heavily on Rajha and Shawkat to “terrorize anti-regime opponents into submission,” said Con Coughlin in Telegraph.co.uk. The two officials masterminded the brutal crackdown on protesters over the past year, and were also responsible for “liaising with Moscow, which has provided invaluable support in helping the Assad regime.” Now that these butchers have been eliminated, regime change should be easier to achieve. 

But this civil war is still far from over, said Hussein Ibish in TheDailyBeast.com. The regime may have lost the support of the Sunni majority, but it retains considerable support among Alawites, Christians, and other minorities. Its forces are better armed than the rebels, and could still deploy “Syria’s considerable stockpiles of chemical and other special weapons” against sectarian foes. Still, there’s little doubt that Assad will eventually fall. The larger question is “whether the process will break Syria apart or not.” 

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