On December 2nd, Syrian insurgents staged an attack on an Intelligence facility in northern Idlib province. Eight people were killed in the ensuing clashes, including several Air Force intelligence personnel. Like the previous high-profile attack on the Air Force intelligence headquarters in Damascus, the media rushed to portray this act along with recent calls for sanctions as the fall of another pillar signaling the imminent end of the Assad regime.
However, the reality of the situation is that the Idlib attack symbolizes all that is plaguing Syrian opposition in its many forms.
The Idlib attack came hours after the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) insurgent group announced a decision to coordinate their resistance. Included in the agreement was a pledge by the FSA to halt its offensive attacks, limiting its armed activity to protecting protest neighborhoods in flashpoint cities like Homs and Hama.
The SNC, an umbrella body of various opposition groups in exile, has been struggling to prove its legitimacy to the world, while the FSA has taken the spotlight with its high-profile attacks, drawing concerns over the advent of a civil war in Syria. The nature of these groups and geographical and ideological divides between them continue to deter the international community from taking measures that would expedite Assad's fall.
In Libya’s case, the opposition NTC was able to create the façade that they were a viable alternative to Gaddafi, established firmly in their base in Benghazi from which they would conduct their military campaign to overthrow him. Today, no one seems quite sure just who is leading the revolution in Syria, as most of the world has yet to recognize the SNC's legitimacy, while it remains to be seen whether the FSA boasts any real hierarchy as opposed to various bands of defectors operating independently of each other.
Despite their growing attention from the media, the Free Syrian Army remains incapable of launching a sustained military campaign against the Syrian military. The hit-and-run attacks on symbolic targets such as Air Force intelligence facilities (Assad Senior was commander of Air Force Intelligence) show that these insurgents are conducting these raids in a bid to create the impression that the government is losing control of its territory.
Syria protests not enough
Yet in reality these insurgents not only lack the necessary heavy weaponry to compete with Assad's powerful military, but they also lack sufficient supply lines to conduct a prolonged campaign. Many of these insurgents are forced to make do with the arms they took when they defected from their units, while others buy small arms from smugglers in neighboring countries or raid existing military stockpiles.
Even with the rapidly increasing defection rates, the soldiers who are deserting their post are mostly Sunni conscripts with limited training and strategic know-how. The Allawite-dominated Syrian Air Force, Special Forces, and command echelon are unlikely to follow suit, as they understand their fight is currently the best way to preserve their sect’s domination of the country.
The Syrian opposition is therefore in need of international intervention in the form of advanced arms, training, and ultimately, a military strike to eliminate Assad's military advantage - his airpower. Given the potential regional consequences of such strike, the Syrian opposition is left with little choice but to use global public opinion to create a dire situation that would lead to Assad's complete isolation.
They must therefore draw the Syrian military into a situation where it is forced to use its airpower, causing mass casualties that would leave world leaders with no choice but to consider military intervention.
After nearly 10 months of brutal crackdown, it remains clear that peaceful protest in Syria will not remove the remaining economic and military pillars still bolstering the Assad regime. Both the opposition leadership in exile and within Syria must commit to taking drastic steps that will likely bring about greater suffering in order to pressure the world to take action to remove these pillars.
The writer is an Argov Fellow for Leadership and Diplomacy at the IDC Herzliya. He works for Max-Security Solutions, a security consulting firm based in Tel Aviv
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