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Dr. Josef Olmert

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The Noose Is Tightening for Bashar Assad in Syria

Posted: 08/09/11 01:21 PM ET

Thousands of victims, including newly-born babies in Hama, besieged cities, as well as artillery and tank attacks do not put an end to the brave Sunni uprising in Syria. Bashar Assad and his henchmen do what they know best -- they relentlessly kill their own people and commit unspeakable horrors. But they are losing the war, even though they win local battles.

Let's review the events of the last 48 hours in order to get the realistic picture of what is happening in Syria. The Saudi Arabian king, in a dramatic departure from Saudi diplomatic tradition, publicly condemned the Syrian "killing machine", and recalled his ambassador from Damascus. So did Kuwait and Bahrain. The highest Sunni religious authority in the world, Sheikh Al-Azhar in Cairo, attacked the Alawite regime in the strongest possible terms, and no other than a head of a Syrian Human Rights organization publicly said, that the Syrian regime treats its people far worse that Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians...

Inside Syria itself, the defections of high-level officers continue, and Syrian opposition sources claim that the deposed Defense Minister Ali Habib was found dead at his home, just 24 hours after his surprising dismissal. A coincidence? Not really, as according to many reports, the 72-year-old general objected to the massacre in Hamah. The Syrian opposition maintains that the ill-fated general was murdered by agents of the regime, something that still has to be verified.

A similar story happened some years ago, following the assassination of PM Hariri in Lebanon. The then Syrian interior Minister, General Ghazi Kana'an was mentioned in Lebanon as the instigator of the crime. Within days he was found dead at his home. The Bashar Assad regime claimed that he committed suicide. Very few people believed it then, and no one believes now, that general Habib died of illness... The two men who give the orders in Syria are Maher Assad, the president's brother and commander of the Alawite fourth division and the brother-in-law Asaf Shawkat, married to Bushra Assad, the president's sister. The two officers are purported to be the ones who threaten to destroy every revolting Syrian city. By all accounts, they do a very good job at that, and yet they fail to put down the uprising.

No wonder that Firas Tlas, son of Mustafa Tlas, the long-time Defense Minister under Hafiz Assad, fled Syria with a car loaded with cash. The richest person in Syria, Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Bashar Assad and one of the most hated men in Syria, applied for a visa to Cyprus, but was denied. Other prominent Syrian personalities, usually widely quoted by the official media are silent and not seen in public these days. The one spokesperson who still tries to do the impossible and explain the inexplicable is Ms. Buthaina Sha'aban, once the darling of the western media.

As bad as all this is to the Alawite regime, even worse news came with the most recent developments in the relations between Syria and Turkey. PM Erdogan, a man of no-nonsense, sent his Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu to Damascus with an ultimatum to Bashar Assad: stop the massacre immediately, or else...

Ahead of the visit, Davutoglu did not mince his words, saying that Bashar is likely to end as Gaddafi in Libya, making it clear that it was the last attempt to bring a change. Bashar apparently did not pay too much attention to his guest, and at the same time that he was lectured by the Turkish visitor, Syrian tanks attacked a village very near to the Turkish border. This was an insult to Turkey and to Erdogan personally, and an insult of that magnitude will not go unnoticed in Ankara. The Turkish government managed to overcome the recent crisis with the Turkish military as Erdogan proved again that he is now the undisputed leader of the country. With a lot of self-confidence, Erdogan will move on and quickly isolate Bashar and put pressure on him.

Military action against Syria is in the cards, and Bashar will not be able to rely on too much external support in that case. Also Russian President Medvedev sent him a very blatant warning just few days ago. With all that happening, the Alawite regime finds itself in an impossible situation with almost complete regional and international isolation and a brave, unrelenting domestic opposition, that shows no signs of giving up.

It may be a matter of few months, perhaps even less, but Bashar Assad will not be able to survive. The noose is tightening and the clock is ticking.