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Dr. Josef Olmert

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How Assad Is Losing

Posted: 01/19/12 04:30 PM ET

The Syrian uprising started in the provincial town of Dera'a and came to a turning point in another provincial town, Zabadani. These two towns have very little in common, but for their strong opposition to the murderous dictatorship of the Ba'ath party and the Alawite community led by the Assad family.

At least one Syrian dictatorship of the past, that of Adib Shishakli, was brought down in February of 1954 by riots starting in the Hauran region, by members of the Druze community. Other than this coup, major political upheavals in Syria were dominated by events in Damascus and Aleppo, the two traditional political/economic centers of power in Syria.

The fact that these cities are relatively quieter than towns like Homs, Hamah, Idlib and others led many Syrian watchers to the wrong conclusion that the Assad regime is somehow going to survive even the current storm, simply because they have much lesser effect on the Syrian situation than the biggest metropolitan areas. The events in Zabadani should convince the greatest skeptics that the regime is doomed, even if the final straw is yet to come.

Zabadani is a Sunni town, with a Christian minority in between Damascus and the Syrian-Lebanese border. This is a resort town, capitalizing on its good climatic conditions and surely not as poor as Dera'a and other provincial towns are. The fact, that the population of this town revolted against the regime is a clear indication that the opposition to the regime derives from multiple reasons, not just because of poor socio-economic conditions. In Zabadani, the rebels demonstrated the strength of the combined power of the armed units of The Free Syria Army backed by a determined civilian population. A lot of observers belittled the former, no doubt feeling justified to do so by the often exaggerated claims of the rebellious army and its leaders.

The situation in Zabadani proves that the armed rebels are well on their way to become an effective force; enough, at least, to fight the depleted armed forces of the regime. The defections from the army are much bigger than what was perceived to be the case, and the defectors, in some instances entire organic units are doing it with the supreme motivation of defending their own people, the Sunnis, believing that they can do it only by toppling the regime. The dictator has dwindling resources with which to fight back, since it can't trust the loyalty of units which are not purely Alawite. Therefore, the regime has to increasingly rely on the non-regular Alawite militia of the Shabiha, but as proved in the case of Zabadani, this is an ineffective force when it has to engage in a real fight, rather than in a merciless massacre of defenseless civilians.

The material/financial resources of the regime are also decreasing rapidly, as the sanctions do have an effect. It is estimated, that short of an immediate, unexpected infusion of many billions of Iranian dollars the regime will be unable to pay its remaining loyalists in a matter of few months. The Iranians have their own cash problem, caused by the sanctions imposed on them; Russia may continue to shower the regime with bombastic statements of support but no cash, and so the Assad government has to think about the inevitable. In that case, where to fight back and how much resources to invest in this battle. There are many indications that the Alawite elite is bracing itself to the final option of withdrawing to the Alawite mountains in North-West Syria. The withdrawal from Zabadani may seem to add credibility to these reports, but it is premature to come to that conclusion. The regime may still plan a counter-attack at a more opportune moment and reclaim the liberated town, but Assad and his cronies know, that what happened in Zabadani can and will solidify the resolve of the opposition in other parts of Syria.

The Syrian rebels needed a victory to serve as symbol, and even more so, as a rallying point for the continuation of the uprising. So, the town of Zabadani, so insignificant in the past, is suddenly becoming the flash-point of the Sunni uprising. Let's remember also, that the rebels will clearly use their control of a region so close to the Lebanese border in order to get increasing amount of support from their Lebanese allies.

They will have to make sure, that no hardships will befall upon the Christian population in Zabadani in order to show to the Arab world and the international community that they are a responsible military-civilian movement getting better ready than before to succeed the crumbling Alawite dictatorship.

Hopefully, that will be the case, and if it is Zabadani will ensure itself a prominent

Place in the annals of modern Syria.