Syria: Toward the end of al-Assad?

Syria: Toward the end of al-Assad?

The bodies of two Turkish Air Force pilots which were recovered from 1,260 meters under the surface of Syrian territorial waters 8.6 miles off of Latikia coast on July 5, yesterday, are not a joking matter; they were shot on June 22 without warning as they violated Syrian air space on a reconnaissance mission. They are going to be buried after a state funeral today, on July 6, in Malatya, the base of their last RF-4 flight and also the base of an early warning radar for NATO’s strategic missile shield projects.

But what we read from an AFP story yesterday is an alleged joke, as it was reported. The story from Moscow says Russia has confirmed receiving requests from its Western partners to help end the conflict in Syria by offering President Bashar al-Assad asylum, but said it dismissed the idea as a joke.

Reportedly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the idea was first raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Our side thought this was a joke,” Lavrov said, “and responded with a joke.” The counter-joke was “How about you, the Germans, take Mr. al-Assad instead.”

One can only speculate how President al-Assad would take this as a joke when and if he reads this agency story about his post and his very presence now being a joking matter in international politics; there is a bitter truth behind every joke. Plus it must have taken a lot of thought for the German chancellor to say such a thing to the Russian president in their first official meeting after Putin was re-elected. The Russians for sure must have taken this as a part of the naked truth that it may not take too long for al-Assad to lose his chair without Russian support.

In his interview with Turkish journalist Utku Çakırözer of Cumhuriyet, al-Assad gave the example of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran (toppled by the Islamic Revolution in 1979) and said he could not keep his power if the Syrian people did not support him. That is not a joke either, considering the support of tens of thousands for the former Romanian President Nikolai Ceaucescu minutes before they turned against him and eventually deposed him. The description of the situation in Syria by the Russian-approved U.N. envoy (and former Secretary-General) Kofi Annan is “civil war,” and al-Assad dismisses the U.N. reports anyway.

This is a sad story. The “implosion” forecast of the Turkish Foreign Ministry last year took longer than it was assumed, showing the strength of al-Assad’s state apparatus, the support he takes from a part of his people and international support he gets from Iran, China and above all, Russia.

The picture al-Assad draws in the Cumhuriyet interview gives the impression that he is strong and the “civil war” is nothing but some acts of terrorism with outside support. The picture Lavrov draws by telling the details of the “dismissed joke” gives the impression that al-Assad might be nearing the end of his time in power.