The Assad Family Regime’s brutal counterattack against rebel positions in Aleppo, Syria’s 2nd-largest city, was taken by many spectators to portend a significant setback to rebel progress in the country’s growing civil war. A grim indicator of the Assad Family Regime’s use of helicopter gunships, tanks and even fighter jets to hammer rebel positions, both the Red Cross and the Red Crescent of Syria agree that over 200,000 residents of the city fled over the past weekend alone.
Though the rebel Free Syrian Army has shown many signs of growing strength in July, from a stunning assassination of high-level military officials in the capital Damascus to concurrent territorial gains in that city, the lack of material means to fight the Regime’s gunships and armor columns (let-alone the fast and crudely-destructive fighter jets the regime is now prepared to deploy in its own cities) has clearly hampered has for days been taken to imply a massive regime counterattack and inevitable rebel retreat. The former has clearly happened; the latter has been more-measured than anticipated.
Even as they fall back in the face of the Regime counterattack, the Free Syrian Army continues to make progress on other fronts where the government has become vulnerable. Following an overnight battle, the rebels captured a Regime military base manned by about 200 troops of the Syrian Army on Monday morning. Somehow, casualties were light on both sides, and the rebels captured 4 tanks in fighting condition.
A dozen Syrian military and police officers, including the Deputy Police Chief of Latakia, defected to Turkey last night. At the same time Khaled al-Ayoubi, the Syrian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, resigned his post, saying he would no longer “represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people.” It is unclear whether Mr. Ayoubi now intends to represent the rebels in some capacity, but his resignation from the Assad Family Regime was favorably-received by the UK Foreign Office.
Even if rebel claims that they are repulsing the government’s counterattack in Aleppo prove to be exaggerated, the very fact that the rebellion has reached this point is devastating news for the Regime. With a 2004 census count of just over 2.1 million people, Aleppo is home to about 10% of all Syrians; through most of the conflict the city has at least outwardly supported the Assad Regime. The use of gunships, tanks, and artillery in the city’s streets–along with what amounts in effect to a military blockade of many neighborhoods that has cut off both food staples and electricity–will alienate many supporters of the regime, as will the Regime’s somewhat-lighter hand in Damascus. The Liberal Ironist previously reasoned that Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s initial unprovoked heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters followed by abrupt offers of concessions, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s less-sincere offering of the same under similar conditions, presaged the collapse of those regimes under growing rebel confidence. But in Libya Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi”s contrasting zero-tolerance policy towards any and all dissent simply inflamed existing popular mistrust and anger towards the stationary banditry that passed for a government there, converting protests into armed insurrection. The same is coming to pass in Syria, where the Free Syrian Army can claim to have received no foreign direct assistance aside from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. At no time has the Assad Family Regime made an offer of concessions, or even really of peace. The very fact of the massive reprisals the Regime is now taking on a city that had in relative terms sat-out this civil war is a sign that differences between the government and most of its people are now unbridgeable, and that the government is losing its grip on the material means it needs to support itself. The Liberal Ironist no more has a crystal ball than anyone else, and so cannot predict when the Assad Family Regime will fall, but I am confident that fall will come more-suddenly and dramatically than many observers now expect–as it did in Libya.