Adrian Hamilton: The Syrians can, and will, get rid of Assad themselves

World View: This is a civil war whose outcome will be decided from within, not without


The best thing about the Damascus bomb is that it was done by the Syrians themselves. Both the Free Syrian Army and Liwa al-Islam have claimed credit, as well they might. But, whatever the truth, this was an attack well planned, well executed and apparently without the help of anyone outside the country.

Good for them. The head of the UN monitoring mission, Major-General Robert Mood, might condemn the attack, Russia and China might veto the UN resolution on sanctions (as they did yesterday), Cameron might give President Assad "a clear message" for him to go (as if he's listening), but none of this, or even the UN debate, has any relevance now. This is a civil war whose outcome will be decided from within, not without, and the Syrian opposition feel they owe the outside world little in the way of thanks.

That could prove important in any new order. The militarisation of the conflict has aroused widespread fears that the arming of the rebels was bringing in all sorts of unwelcome outside interests, particularly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. It's what disturbed the Russians, conscious of the Wahhabi influence in their own Muslim troubles in the Caucasus, as much as those in the West worried about al-Qa'ida.

If the Free Syrian Army has received direct help in terms of arms and equipment, it is largely owing to groups in Iraq. Yet to paint this as a foreign-inspired and organised rebellion on the lines of so many civil wars in Africa misses the point. This has been a disparate, largely disorganised and localised series of uprisings against a regime, not a revolution aimed at gaining power.

Whether we are now witnessing a final regime collapse after the bomb depends less on what the opposition can do than whether the regime implodes from within.

An awful lot has been written about how President Assad and his family have retained the support of the minorities at home and fellow Shias abroad. But the Alawites, a heretical Shia sect, have never been religious. Their authority comes from clan loyalty, not shared faith. If they have been supported by Iran, it has been for the same reason as the Russians. Their anti-Western stance has made them a useful ally in a Western-dominated region. Once they lose their authority at home, they will lose their usefulness outside.

It is the same within the country. Other minorities, such as the Armenians and Druze, have long been flattered by the Assads and certainly feel fearful at the thought of their departure. But they have no vested interest in their survival. Their silence is not one of approval, but of sitting on the fence as the violence rages. Once Assad is seen to be losing, you will see precious few groups rushing to join him in a last stand.

Syria is not a mosaic of interests carefully calibrated by the Assads. Like so many other tyrannies in the Middle East, from that of Saddam Hussein to Colonel Gaddafi, it is a thuggish and corrupt regime, bent on the interests of its own clan and held in power by a security apparatus officered by Alawites and an economy monopolised by them.

If the regime now fights on, it will be because the hatred of the Alawites is such, particularly after the behaviour of their militia, that they will feel they have no choice but to fight on, retreating to their mountain strongholds.

If the regime collapses – as well it might – it will be because the majority of whatever religion will decide they are on their way out and that it is time to join the new order. It may be that the end is bloody and prolonged, but it's just as likely that it will come quickly.

Then it is up to the Syrians. With the Alawites gone, there will be no need of persecution of others or of some Shia-Sunni power play. The Syrians will have done it themselves and the rest of us, Westerners and Russians alike, can forget Cameron's "very clear messages" and just act to help them to a better future.

That's enough about Iran

Will no one tell the Israeli government finally to put up or shut up? There is no incident which they do not immediately blame on the Iranians. You can't even discuss Syria with an Israeli ex-ambassador, as the BBC did yesterday, without the menace of Tehran being brought into play.

One is reminded of nothing as much as President Bush's accusations about Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction as the reason for invading Iraq.

The bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in eastern Bulgaria on Tuesday was a terrible thing. But there was no obvious evidence of Iranian complicity, particularly after the Bulgarian police pointed to a Caucasian caught on camera.

If the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, really wants to attack Iran, as he seems intent, perhaps he should appear before the UN with his reasons and evidence, just as poor old Colin Powell did in his embarrassed, and embarrassing, account of Saddam's WMD.

But, until he does, there must be the suspicion that his declaration that "all the signs lead to Iran" is part of a deliberate demonisation of Tehran in preparation for a unilateral action long since planned.

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