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The Syrian Gambit

The Syrian War Aftermath

Damascus explosion

Syria being a strategic country in the Middle East—it has a significant population and sits on important commercial and military crossroads—we are unlikely to see the ongoing war continuing for much longer. Both sides in the conflict have mighty allies, who are helping their protégées. Both sides can claim victories. In the last days of August 2012, the Syrian government seems to be regaining control of Aleppo, the country’s main trade center. On the other hand, the rebels conducted successful attacks at the heart of Damascus, the country’s capital, which was supposed to be safe under the protection of the Republican Guard, Syria’s Army elite unit. At a certain point one side may decide to withdraw before sustaining heavy damages; or, one side may give a lucky strike and decapitate its opponent. A solution in which the regime is exchanged peacefully is unlikely; as pointed out in It’s Too Late for Assad’s Resignation, this conflict runs also along ethnic lines. Assad is an Alawite, while most of the country’s population is Sunni. For years, the government and army gave advantages to Alawites. All of the Syrian Army pilots are Alawites, as is much of the Republican Guard. If the Free Syrian Army surrenders, everything will look like before; the mercenaries will be mysteriously swallowed by the western desert that had earlier vomited them out. However, if the Assad regime decides “to improve its positions backwards” (polite “militarese” for “withdrawal”), a different scenario is likely to happen. It will be defined by the nature of this regime in general, and the Republican Guard in particular.

Blood Brothers

Syria inner circle

If not knowing the secret behind them, it is very difficult to understand the activities of special units. The latest event along this line I commented upon dealt with the placement of cameras and beamers by the IDF in Lebanon, near Beirut. They were discovered last year by Hezbollah, and Lebanon formally complained to the UN. Such operations are routinely performed by an IDF unit named Shaldag (“kingfisher” in Hebrew), a spin-off of Sayeret Matkal. The latter is the General Headquarters Commando Unit, to which Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak belonged. The people chosen for these units often possess unusual capabilities. One of the Kingfisher soldiers I knew had studied with me in the same high-school. He was slightly deformed. His legs were like thin sticks; his arms belonged to a superhero. At the age of 15, he climbed a rope effortlessly all the way up to the gymnasium’s ceiling without using his legs. After the class was over, he did that three times in a row; he kept chatting all the time and easily won the bet (a moneyless bet; in our Communist kibbutzim money was a reactionary term). He was perfect for a military unit heavily dependent on helicopters and motorbikes. Ehud Barak has an unimpressive body; yet, he can easily open any lock, at least those used until a generation ago. This is impressive and explains their technical capabilities, but is not enough to forge the loyalty needed to perform operations behind enemy lines, where you must trust your fellow combatant to death. An additional ingredient is needed.

Such loyalty must be forged. One way of achieving this is by creating mutual dependence among the fighters. The easiest and cheapest way to accomplish that relies on hidden—but real—threats. Invariably, these soldiers watch each other perform crimes; they posses so much embarrassing knowledge about each other that—if I may use a sarcastic form of this phrase—they become “blood brothers.”

This explains the oddly polite relation between Barak and Netanyahu despite the bitter political rivalry between them. The Syrian Republican Guard is the parallel of the IDF elite units with a twist, they also perform bodyguard tasks. They are the only military unit allowed into Damascus, and sum up a full division, roughly 10,000 soldiers. Nowadays, the unit is led by Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher. The guard’s loyalty is enhanced also by ethnic considerations.

A destroyed Syrian army tank

The point is simple. Since the conflict is also ethnic, the losers can’t leave anybody behind. If Assad’s regime surrenders, the Republican Guard cannot be dismantled quietly. It cannot blend into the population. Alawite men of certain age and looks will automatically be tagged as “Former Republican Guard” and will be dealt violently by the new regime. Any evacuation plan by Assad must take into account the Republican Guard; he can’t split it, he can’t dismantle it. Assad knows that the only way to ensure the loyalty of those who will provide the military security he needs for the evacuation will demand the safety of all his blood brothers.

 

The Syrian Gambit

Understanding this, what is needed for a safe evacuation is clear. The aerial route is unlikely to be chosen. To transport well over 10,000 people (the Republican Guard and the core of the Assad Administration) quietly and safely is almost impossible. It would be such a temptation for Israel to strike such a convoy, that it is better not to put this to test. The safest approach would be for Assad to move overland to the northeastern part of his territory, which is controlled by Kurds. From there, he may create an enclave from where to conduct the resistance, move to the Shi’a parts of Iraq, or even reach Iran. These options would be feasible. Since the beginning of 2012, two clear signs of this plan had emerged.

In recent months, Bashar al-Assad gave benefits to Kurds living in Syria; thousands of them got their citizenship after waiting for many years. In recent weeks, the Syrian government withdrew troops from the Kurdish northeast and sent them into the areas controlled by rebels. The safety of the move may have been underlined by further promises to the Kurds. This assures the safety of the path to be followed. Another critical point is the loyalty of those to follow Assad.

Those familiar with the situation in Syria probably shouted “Manaf Tlass!,” when I commented on the loyalty expected from the Republican Guard. Until he resigned in July, he was a Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard and member of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. He is the son of the former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass and overall a very prominent figure in the Syrian Administration. His resignation was presented as a win of the rebels. However, it was unlikely to be so. He is too linked to the Assad regime—including with the first president of the dynasty—to be safe after his resignation. What determined his fate—and of others in the Guard—is his being Sunni. As such, he couldn’t be trusted for the delicate task Assad is apparently planning and was dismissed. Everything looks nice and tight for an emergency plan, except for one thing.

Moving overland such a mass of people and the core equipment needed for the new administration is not easy. Such a convoy takes time and space. It will be seen by a million predatory eyes. It can be intercepted in a million ways before it finds a haven. Assad must make sure that the most probable organization capable of blocking his move would be neutralized for a while. The IDF will for sure attempt to destroy such a convoy.

Recently, the IDF acknowledged it cannot deal with massive destruction of industrial and civilian infrastructure (see IDF: Home Front Command not ready for war with Iran). This is particularly grave due to the highly poisonous qualities of some of Israel’s industrial areas. This gives Assad an opportunity. The Republican Guard is responsible for the operation of chemical and biological weapons; Syria and Israel are among the largest owners of these in the world. If Assad decides to relocate out of Damascus, probably he will make sure a large distraction keeps the IDF busy. In another odd distortion of the phrase, Israel and Syria would become blood brothers.

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9 Responses to The Syrian Gambit

  1. who_me August 27, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    is tov prepping the peanut gallery for the destruction of syria?

  2. Somoe August 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    I have to disagree with Roy Tov on this matter – I don’t think it is inevitable that the Assad government will fall. I really don’t think Assad will submit to the rebels and extract himself and his tribe from the homeland. An interesting take on the situation though.

  3. Ariadna Theokopoulos August 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    On August 22 you write “It’s too Late for Assad’s Resignation,” now you give detailed variants of his likely departure? What has changed in 4 days, Roy?

  4. Alex August 28, 2012 at 8:29 pm #
    On August 22 you write “It’s too Late for Assad’s Resignation,” now you give detailed variants of his likely departure? What has changed in 4 days, Roy?
    Arianda
    Nothing changed in 4 days.
    When Roy wrote, It’s Too Late for Assad’s Resignation, he echoes what the so-called Syrian opposition used to say after everything Assad did during the past 17 months to end the Syrian crisis.
    If I understood him well, Roy in his above article written after 4 days, is saying that Assad’s “blood brothers- Republic Guards” will not let him resign, so Roy gave “detailed variants of Assad’s likely departure?.”
    In short, Roy stormed his mind to find an exit for Assad and his “blood brothers” to northeastern Syria, but moving there is risky because “The IDF will for sure attempt to destroy such a convoy.”
    Roy in his second article is trying to solve Assad’s moving problem.
    Until I looked in the Map he posted in his previous article, I failed to understand why Roy is talking about moving to Kurd northeastern Syria, not to Alawites northwestern Syria.
    Syrian Civil War – August 2012

     

    Most likely Roy believes that Assad will lose Aleppo, Idlib, Deraa, Homs and Damascus, and the road to Alawites northwestern Syria is not safe, so Roy would send Assad and his blood brothers to northeastern Syria, “The safest approach would be for Assad to move overland to the northeastern part of his territory, which is controlled by Kurds.”
    Roy ignored that “the Syrian government withdrew troops from the Kurdish northeast” not only to sent them into the areas controlled by rebels.”. The withdrawal was a challenge to turkey to interfere, and fill the vacuum.
    My problem with Roy’s above article is the assumption he made
    • The conflict “runs also along ethnic lines” (its more true to say sectarian lines) but ignoring the other lines, ignoring the other sects.
    • “All of the Syrian Army pilots are Alawites, as is much of the Republican Guard”, ignoring that the pilot who defected to Jordan is not an Alawites, and his defection happened under Assad’s eyes. Joy contradicted himself when he admitted that Manaf Tlas was a Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard and member of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, and Manaf’s father the former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass was a very prominent figure in the Syrian Administration.
    • The Syrian government “regaining control of Aleppo, the country’s main trade center” lost the control in Damascus, the country’s capital, which was supposed to be safe under the protection of the Republican Guard, Syria’s Army elite unit”, ignoring that the so-called FSA, has suffered the un-lucky Damascus strike planned to “decapitate its opponent”
    • The FSA can’t surrenders, because “everything will look like before; ignoring that in 1980’s mercenaries has been “mysteriously swallowed” by the western puppet regimes in Jordan and Gulf States.

    With above assumptions Roy the way to his “different scenario is likely to happen”, the Assad regime may decides “to improve its positions backwards” (polite “militarese” for “withdrawal”), “It will be defined by the nature of this regime in general, and the Republican Guard in particular”

    After telling us with fascination the story of his schoolmate, the chosen Kingfisher soldier, Roy knew and studied with in the same high-school, “who without having an unimpressive can easily open any lock, he said that technical capabilities is not enough to forge the loyalty needed to perform operations behind enemy lines, where you must trust your fellow combatant to death…these soldiers watch each other perform crimes; they posses so much embarrassing knowledge about each other that—if I may use a sarcastic form of this phrase—they become “blood brothers. This explains the oddly polite relation between Barak and Netanyahu despite the bitter political rivalry between them.”
    Having prepared his reader’s he dropped his “bombshell”

    “The Syrian Republican Guard is the parallel of the IDF elite units with a twist, they also perform bodyguard tasks. They are the only military unit allowed into Damascus, and sum up a full division, roughly 10,000 soldiers. Nowadays, the unit is led by Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher. The guard’s loyalty is enhanced also by ethnic considerations.”

    On reading this comparison, I recalled Uri Avnery who imagined “posters condemning Binyamin al-Assad and Bashar Netanyahu.”
    ROY’s “point is simple. Since the conflict is also ethnic, the losers can’t leave anybody behind. .. Any evacuation plan by Assad must take into account the Republican Guard; he can’t split it, he can’t dismantle it. Assad knows that the only way to ensure the loyalty of those who will provide the military security he needs for the evacuation will demand the safety of all his blood brothers .”
    In short, Assad can’t win, can’t resign, and can’t withdraw alone.

    “The aerial (withdrawal) route is unlikely to be chosen. To transport well over 10,000 people (the Republican Guard and the core of the Assad Administration) quietly and safely is almost impossible. It would be such a temptation for Israel to strike such a convoy, that it is better not to put this to test. The safest approach would be for Assad to move overland to the northeastern part of his territory, which is controlled by Kurds. From there, he may create an enclave from where to conduct the resistance, move to the Shi’a parts of Iraq, or even reach Iran. These options would be feasible. Since the beginning of 2012, two clear signs of this plan had emerged.”

    Assuming, that Joy is right, I wonder why Assad should move to the northeastern part of his territory which is controlled by Kurds, and not to the northwestern part of his territory which is controlled by Alawites, where he would engoy a sea front and Tartus Russian base, and the Sspport of 15 million Alawites living north in Iskenderun?
    As far as I remember when Patrick Seale asked Hafez Assad what would happen in case his power is threatened, Assad’s answer was: Well we will have heavy traffic on Damascus-Lathekya road.
    It’s very naive to assume that Kurds would be more loyal to Assad than his fellow Alawites.
    WHY he would leave Homs where Alawites, Christians are part of the population fabric and lose his access to Hezbollah in Bekaa? Why he would leave Deraa and his front with Israel and betray Druze who supported him?


    “Moving overland such a mass of people and the core equipment needed for the new administration is not easy. Such a convoy takes time and space. It will be seen by a million predatory eyes. It can be intercepted in a million ways before it finds a haven. Assad must make sure that the most probable organization capable of blocking his move would be neutralized for a while. The IDF will for sure attempt to destroy such a convoy.”

    HOWEVER, ROY after assuring that IDF will for sure attempt to destroy Assad’s convoy, he remembered that “the IDF acknowledged it cannot deal with massive destruction of industrial and civilian infrastructure (see IDF: Home Front Command not ready for war with Iran). This is particularly grave due to the highly poisonous qualities of some of Israel’s industrial areas.”

    So, Assad has an opportunity. “The Republican Guard is responsible for the operation of chemical and biological weapons; Syria and Israel are among the largest owners of these in the world. If Assad decides to relocate out of Damascus, probably he will make sure a large distraction keeps the IDF busy. In another odd distortion of the phrase, Israel and Syria would become blood brothers.”
     
    I will end my comment saying, Assad, 8 years ago, refused the “safest” way to “save” himself, his so-called “blood brothers”, his fellow Alawites, by accepting Colin Powell demands.
  5. fool me once... August 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    @Alex
    Still reading, but I think you’ve done a couple of mis-spells on Roy’s name and called him Joy.

    • fool me once... August 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      Oops, I read your comment like an article Alex and thought you’d be able to correct it, sorry.

  6. Alex August 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Sorry for the mis-spells

  7. who_me August 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    mursi shows he can suck that israeli peanut like the rest of the zionist quislings:

    http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-opposition-group-not-job-says-ex-member-114709110.html

    “DUBAI/AMMAN (Reuters) – Egypt called on Thursday for intervention to halt bloodshed in Syria, telling a meeting of 120 nations it was their duty to stand against the “oppressive regime” of Bashar al-Assad, prompting a Syrian walkout.”

    i suspect mubarak may not have been as pliable to zionazi demands, so they got rid of him and replaced him with a quisling less independent and totally loyal to israel.

  8. Alex September 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Wrap up: ‘”There will be no dialogue with the opposition prior to the Syrian army’s imposition of security & stability”‘

    Russian sources indicate that the recent ‘attacks’ in Damascus were carried with ordinances slightly stronger than ‘sound bombs.’
    “… (AP) BEIRUT – The Syrian regime said Monday there will be no dialogue with the opposition before the army crushes the rebels, the latest sign that President Bashar Assad is determined to solve the crisis on the battlefield …..“There will be no dialogue with the opposition prior to the Syrian army’s imposition of security and stability in all parts of the country,” Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told reporters at a news conference in Damascus.…”

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