Interview with opponents to the Syrian regime

NGC had the opportunity to meet with people directly involved or in touch with key actors of the Syrian revolution on the ground to discuss current status of the Syrian conflict, its international aspects and the potential scenarios for the coming months.

We first tried to get a clearer idea of the balance of power on the ground. Many observers believe Syria is sinking into a long lasting Lebanese-style civil war with a regime still strong and ready to fight until the bitter end an opposition growing more violent and religious day by day.

But some observers are starting to sense that Syria is getting closer to a tipping point that could lead to an acceleration of events and a fall of the regime sooner than expected. The anticipations of those still undecided (minorities, reluctant soldiers, public agents…) or too scared to take a stance might decide to switch in favor of the revolution. This would open a sudden power vacuum in Damascus and abruptly raise all the highly sensitive questions a post-Assad area poses for Syria and the region…

According to our interlocutors, time is slowly but surely playing against the regime.

The Free Syrian Army’s actions are getting more efficient and bold with time. Most importantly, the morale of those opposing the Assad regime – being it peacefully or through armed actions- remains strong. On the other side, the pace of desertions is accelerating at all levels, the morale is very low and soldiers are getting more and more afraid of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The strategic choice to rely mainly on Special Forces faithful to the regime is now becoming problematic, as those killed in the fights need to be replaced and getting new trustworthy and skilled recruits is proving to be quite difficult (new conscripts tend not to show up).

The regime keeps control over its troops through threat and fear. Recently, a couple of thousands of colonels were summoned to witness the summary execution of one of them on grounds of disobedience. The regime also provides certain “material rewards” (right to loot and rape) which can sometimes prove to be counterproductive. Some checkpoints were rather easily taken due to the apparent drunkenness of the soldiers.

All in all, it is not possible to say with certainty how much of the territory has been taken by the rebels (some say more than 60%) but certain areas appear to have been lastingly freed from the Syrian regime, offering a base – or just the psychological perception ofa safe haven – for those who want to defect with their families. Meanwhile, Damascus, the heart of the power where people could still pretend to live a normal life, ceased to be a sanctuary and is witnessing more and more fights closer to the official administrative areas.

Concerning the prospect of an international intervention, our interlocutors seemed to believe that it is too late and that the Syrian opposition can now manage without it, although anti-aircraft weapons and a safe zone for civilians would be extremely helpful.

The impact of Ramadan on the crisis is not easy to predict, but those  who think they are among the righteous will probably get a morale boost while those who feel they are fighting on the wrong side will not be able to resort to God during the holy month.

NGC discussed with its interlocutors the alarming reports about a religious radicalization of the opposition that could lead to sectarian violence against the Syrian minorities, as well as heavy weapons being smuggled to the FSA.

Our contacts confirmed to us a general phenomenon of revival of the faith. After more than 16 months of uprising, most of the opponents to the regime have lost close members of their families and are facing knowingly the probability of death and torture on a daily basis. In this context, and in the absence of any other power to turn to, they find their strength and hope in God.

There is indeed a risk of decentralized retaliation actions against the Alawite community in the immediate post-Assad period. But so far, no major incidents have been documented and the FSA is focusing on military targets.

The efficiency of the FSA does not stem from heavier weapons received from abroad but rather from a process of learning by doing from men who all went thru a compulsory two-year military training and who have joined forces with a growing number of experienced and well informed defecting soldiers (50 000 men). The increased coordination between the three main brigades of the FSA also explains the growing effectiveness of the FSA. According to our contacts, the insurgents are not receiving any serious weapons from oversees and have to rely mainly on old stocks stolen from Syrian military facilities and check points.

Most of the international pledges of strategic, military or financial help coming from the Gulf and other regional powers are unfortunately not materializing on the ground. Very little money has in fact been made available (5 Million USD) and anyway the sums offered are tied to so many conditions that it precludes in practice the use of the funds.

On the other side, the FSA is witnessing an increase in the sophistication of weapons used by the regular army and a change of tactics to neutralize the cities and villages (Grozny-style tank overthrowing of houses where rebels are supposed to be hiding).

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