By William Tucker
Syrian forces have engaged lightly armed opposition forces in the western city of Homs with heavier weaponry such as artillery and tanks. The Syrian military has been hitting several areas of the city over the last few days. According to what little independent news media is in Syria, the military is continuing to strike areas that opposition forces have withdrawn from. This has resulted in a high number of civilian casualties according to opposition sources. At this point the reports coming in from Syria are difficult to verify, but the escalation of violence does make sense. President Assad has little to fear now that Russia and China has stood in the way of the international community pressuring him to step down from his post. That being said, a resolution would not have ended the violence. What is likely to happen is regional neighbors, such as Turkey, may be forced to take a more active covert role in Syria to prevent problems from spilling over. Covert assistance is already taking place, but escalation on the part of the regime will force a reciprocation by interested parties.
All things considered, this escalation is just the beginning. President Assad and his regime really has nothing to lose, but his endgame is still unclear at this point. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, killed an estimated ten thousand people in the city of Hama to put down an uprising in the 1980’s. While there is precedent for putting down an insurrection rather violently, it would certainly be more difficult for Assad the younger to pull off. The uprisings across the Arab world have really focused attention on the activities of the ruling parties and the intervention in Libya is fresh on the mind of many a despot. Assad may take more aggressive action, but he will be careful. The regime may understand that this uprising cannot be put down by violence alone, and is likely anticipating intermediary attempts toward a political solution. In the meantime, Assad will try to harm the opposition as much as possible to influence the negotiations if they do take place. With an armed intervention increasingly unlikely from the West, Assad does have time to do this. This isn’t an end in itself, but it may be the best attempt by Assad to ensure regime survival.