Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bombings in Bulgaria & Damascus: Quick Analysis

There were two bombings in the headlines today, the attackon Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the successful assassination of several keymembers of Assad’s inner circle in Damascus.  Short analyses follow, first of the attack in Bulgaria and then of the attack in Damascus.

Hezbollah Lands One
Hezbollah (and Iran together, of course) has been trying to hit Israel for about four years now.  The tempo of efforts – mostly failed (with a partial recent success in India) has been high.  This does not change my fundamental argument that Hezbollah has is having a great deal of difficultycarrying out long-distance attacks against Israel.  But eventually one was going to work.  The key was apparently in finding a country with sufficient security holes and unfortunately Bulgaria fit the bill.

The nagging question is if there is any broader element to this attack?  The AMIA attack (which was 18 years ago today) and the attack on Israel’s Embassy in Argentina two years earlier were revenge attacks for Israeli attacks on Hezbollah leaders.  This was a belated (by four years) revenge attack for the death of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh.  But was there another angle?  If so, it is tough to see.

A bombing in Bulgaria will not change dynamics in Syria.  It may increase international frustration with Iran – which some elements within Iran appear to desire.  They fear that their leaders will bargain away Iran’s nuclear program.

But more then likely, this is Hezbollah and Iran’s terror-masters doing what they do.  Terrorist groups are organizations and units within organizations that are dedicated to certain tasks like to do those tasks.  In particular, the groups that like to carry out violence, want to launch attacks and if they don’t get to they get frustrated and possibly splinter.

Syria Gets Uglier
On first hearing the news about the suicide bombing in Damascus a wicked part of my brain thought, “Finally, suicide bombers being used against the bad guys.”

But Syria has so many possibilities for getting very, very ugly.  If the civil war in Iraq was horrible, Syria could be worse (for starters there is no US military presence to try to stabilize things.)

While the rebels have reached into the inner circle, the regime has its back to the wall and knows what fate awaits it when it falls.  They will go down fighting.  Recent stories state they are moving units from the Golan into the heart of the country and there are enormous worries that Syria will deploy its vast chemical weapons stockpiles (after all, Saddam did.)

When the regime falls, there will be no Truth and Reconciliation Commissions about the Alawite Baathist regime.  Long before the Assad clan took power, the Alawites were a despised minority.  That they ruled the country was an insult, but there was no lack of injury at their hands.  When the regime falls there will be mass murders and beheadings.  The atrocities in the uprising have engendered so much rage.  Even if the regime had fallen quickly, there were so many other misdeeds by the rulers over the past several decades that it is difficult to imagine some sort of accord being reached.  In the Middle East, memories are long.

If Bashar wished, he and his cronies could jump on their private jets and get out.  Perhaps he still will.  But it appears he is establishing himself as the defender of his community, in which he must stop at nothing in their increasingly final stand.

One More Thing
There are reports that the US is making contingency plans for regime collapse in Syria.  This day, like the collapse of Mubarak's regime, was not completely unpredictable.  I'm not saying that anyone should have just known this was going to happen but rather that a prudent analyst would recognize that these regimes were both rickety and could collapse.  The fact that they both lasted for such a long time considering their enormous failures in governance does not mean that they were somehow protected from the great fault-lines of history.

It is an old maxim that plans are nothing, but planning is everything.  The military plans for everything because doing so prepares them - as much as possible - for the unexpected.  Was no one in the massive bowels of the US government (outside of the military) thinking through what could happen in Syria (or sometime soon in Yemen or North Korea?)  That kind of thinking is something well worth doing and worth doing well.

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