Homs continues to endure an onslaught of rockets and mortars in the Bashar al-Assad regime’s worst massacre of civilians since the uprising in Syria began 11 months ago.

The attacks are unremitting and merciless, and the opposition is in chaos. As Dr Benjamin MacQueen explained in Crikey last week, “unlike Libya, where an identifiable opposition movement was able to garner international support against the late 20th century’s pariah poster-boy in Gaddhafi, the situation in Syria is far more opaque. Indeed, the US and the EU still have little idea of who to support”.

Why? An excellent post by a Syrian exile by the name of Ehsani returning home published on Syria Comment attempts to break down the “cocktail of the new Syrian revolution”:

Sunni versus Alawi
Poor versus rich
Rural versus urban
Homs and Hama versus Aleppo and Damascus
Baathists versus Non-Baathists
Religious versus Secular
Saudi Arabia versus Iran
USA versus Russia

Ehsani attempts to connect the dots by documenting three different encounters: two with taxi drivers, one with a soldier. All of the men he speaks to were deeply pessimistic. All of them sensed that this was just the beginning of the conflict. But the conversation with the soldier, which took place some time in mid January, was perhaps the most accurate hint of what was to come.

The 20-year-old soldier was on leave from serving in Homs, visiting his family for three days. A Christian serving with five Sunnis, he stressed that the Syrian army is a lot stronger than many believe and that only 10-20% of its capacity has been used thus far:

Ehsani: If Damascus decides to end the Homs insurgency and use its full might, how many people would die?

Soldier: 50,000

Ehsani: What about all of Syria?

Soldier: 100,000. Presently, we have orders not to shoot. We gain little by shooting as the guns will be grabbed by others and the anger will ensure that many more join the revolution. Our unit is one of the weakest. Damascus could easily replace us with stronger divisions if the objective were to take over these neighbourhoods and kill the armed elements. This is what I expect will happen at some stage, however.

Ehsani: What will you do once you are done with your service?

Soldier: “Get out of here as fast as I can. I don’t care where I go.” His cousin is sitting next to him nods in agreement. “I will swim across to Cyprus soon,” he adds.

As we publish, CNN has just reported it believes the Pentagon and the US Central Command have begun a preliminary internal review of US military capabilities. Two senior administration officials who spoke about the review to CNN emphasised that US policy for now remains the use of non-military options — the options are being prepared in the event President Barack Obama were to call for them.

Short of swimming to Cyprus, intervention could be Syria’s last hope.

Peter Fray

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