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Assad's Crackdown Could Drive Syrian Opposition to Armed Revolt

Monday, April 25, 2011

The sudden deployment of tanks and infantry into the Syrian city of Daraa on Monday has some observers wondering whether the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may soon devolve into a civil war comparable to the one raging a few hundreds miles away in Libya.

"If the opposition wants to continue to press its cause, there's only one way to do it, and that's through armed struggle," says Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Landis, who maintains Syria Comment, a leading English-language blog on Syrian politics and society, tells Trend Lines that such a development is "likely to happen."

Groups opposing al-Assad's government have already built an infrastructure that would allow for the emergence of a secret militarized movement, Landis told Trend Lines, while adding that a serious armed response by the opposition "will take some time, because the government is arresting people right now and trying to tear down those networks that have developed."

The goal behind the government's deployment of tanks was to create a "shock and awe" effect against the uprising, said Landis. "They're going to try and go in hard and fast and bring this to an end."

During recent weeks, al-Assad had "hoped that he could get on top of this by making a few concessions, and that failed, so now he's going to try and stamp this out," Landis explained. "So it's going to have to go bloody, and if the opposition wants to continue, they're going to have to meet force with force."

Such a development would most likely involve the movement of weapons into Syria by elements loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood based outside of the country.

"The Muslim Brotherhood would have to play a role in arming the opposition, because [regional] governments are not going to do it," said Landis, noting that Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria's other neighbors in the Persian Gulf "will not want to see the Assad regime fall, because the danger is that it will empower Islamic groups that are in the best position to be able to fight the regime."

He added that while Syrian opposition groups in the United States and Europe will call for support for an armed uprising if one breaks out, the likelihood of a U.S. or European intervention on the side of an armed opposition to al-Assad is unlikely.

"Many of the realists in Washington and Europe . . . are frightened about the fall of this regime, because they believe the outcome is going to be civil war, not democracy. And that means a lot of refugees."

Landis said, "Europe is already choking on Muslim refugees, and they're not going to want to take more in." He added that "there are hard days ahead. America's allies in the region -- Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia -- are going to be supporting al-Assad . . . because they don't want a civil war, which will mean refugees and a rise of extremism, and they'll get sucked in."

Joshua Landis recently wrote this analysis on Syria for Time magazine.