Apparently Bashar al-Assad beat his former Colonel to the shock.
Less than 72 hours ago Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), had announced his dissatisfaction with the Arab League’s observer mission, giving monitors “a few days” to prove themselves fit for the task. Otherwise “we will take a decision which will surprise the regime and the whole world.” 24 hours and dozens of casualties later, al-Asaad declared that his tolerance for inaction had expired: “We are preparing for big operations.”
One day might be enough time for Syria’s regime to organize counter-propaganda in the form of another Damascus bombing. Three days gives al-Assad too much time to plot.
While Friday’s gruesome blast in the capital inspired nightmares to al-Assad loyalists as they passed by, oppositional forces are experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. According to the government's account, a suicide bomber detonated his 10 kilogram payload amid “a traffic place crowded with inhabitants, passersby and shops,” blowing out a bus in the process. SANA state news later designated the bus as the bomber’s target; at least 26 civilians and security personnel are reported dead, with upwards of 60 injured.
The terror attack in al-Midan, a historic neighborhood near Damascus’s old city, immediately replicated the dual suicide bombing that struck Syria’s intelligence centers on December 23rd. Again ready to broadcast, personnel from Syrian state TV found themselves on the scene within moments to control its image. So did the Assistant Regional Secretary of al-Baath Party Mohammad Saiid Bkheitan, Prime Minister Adel Safar, the Ministers of Information and Health, and a variety of security personnel.
Somehow reporting from the scene, the Guardian’s Ian Black observed Syrian officials “energetically” showing off bloody limbs. “There was a sense that the Syrian authorities wanted to show what had happened.”
This same atmosphere lingered over Damascus on December 23rd, when near-simultaneous bombings struck government targets hours before the Arab League’s arrival. Denying Syria’s popular revolution since March’s initial uprising, al-Assad’s regime has instead entrenched its hardline by accusing “terrorists” and “foreign conspirators” of fomenting dissent. Syrian personnel flooded the League’s monitors with this narrative as they escorted them to the blast sites, adding that al-Qaeda had collaborated with Syria’s opposition.
Syria’s National Council (SNC) condemned al-Assad for once again killing his own people.
Armed with his next excuse, al-Assad appears to have capitalized on al-Asaad’s statements with another high-profile terror attack. The possibility of SNC/FSA complicity is low considering that few benefits are transferred to the opposition (especially counterproductive for international intervention), but the opening was admittedly easy to exploit. Colonel Ammar al-Wawi also implied that the FSA predicted Friday’s attack, setting up a notorious pattern for the months ahead.
“We’re expecting more of these bombings in the coming days,” al-Wawi warned. “This regime is seeking to spread chaos in Syria.”
Also unconvinced by Damascus’s latest bombing, the SNC joined its military counterpart in holding al-Assad’s regime responsible for both attacks. Members of the opposition and local activists pointed out the difficulty of smuggling explosives through a dense ring of security checkpoints in the heavily-guarded Damascus. Spokesman Omar Idilbi explained, "It is a continuation of the regime's dirty game as it tries to divert attention from massive protests. We call upon for an independent international committee to investigate these crimes that we believe that the regime planned and carried out."
On top of slandering the FSA and its loose connection with the SNC, al-Assad’s regime wasted no time exploiting the Arab League’s own monitors and oppositional foreign powers. The security official that Ian Black allegedly witnessed displaying “Syrian blood” was quoted as screaming, "This is the crime of the Arab League.” Equally willing to cooperate and toy with the League’s monitors, al-Assad’s regime has used their presence to “prove” Syria’s terrorist activity.
The State Department’s Victoria Nuland remarked, "What's interesting here is that, as with previous attacks, the Assad regime has blamed just about everybody. They've blamed the opposition, they've blamed al-Qaida, they've even blamed the United States.”
Nuland finds herself linked to Damascus’s bombing after reflecting the opposition’s discontent and attempting to keep pace with more skeptical Western capitals (Paris). In a Wednesday statement, Syria`s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Maqdisi declared that al-Assad’s regime "is not interested in presenting an account on compliance or noncompliance with a protocol to the US, which is not a party to the protocol in the first place but a party in inflaming and instigating violence.” SANA state media also summoned friendly media figures to accuse Washington of a “devilish act.”
Dr. Amin Huteit, “pointed out that the failure of the conspiracy against Syria drove the conspirators toward carrying out terrorist operations against innocent civilians in implementation of Washington's retaliatory strategy against Syria because of its steadfastness and commitment to its principles and refusal to succumb to the U.S. dictates.”
Although the Obama administration has responded to the Arab revolutions with continual duplicity, organizing terror attacks in Damascus only plays into al-Assad’s hands. When the equation is balanced, Syria’s government stands to gain far more than the opposition by bombing civilian and military targets. The political and military opposition, Arab League and Western powers are all exploited with one blast, triggering massive pro-Assad demonstrations in the process. This plot comes in two phases: first discredit the opposition and international community, then create additional justification to “strike back with an iron fist,” in the words of Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar.
The New York Times reported, “In the chaotic aftermath of the attack, residents in nearby neighborhoods said security and paramilitary forces and loyalists to Mr. Assad went on what some described as a rampage, shooting randomly and beating and arresting people in the streets.”
Syria’s situation obviously stands at an extreme crossroads. The question doesn’t seem to be whether al-Assad will genuinely obey international demands from any party (he won’t), but how far Syria’s opposition is willing to militarize. al-Asaad believes that his former boss cannot be overthrown by peaceful demonstrations, and many protesters agree by supporting international intervention (a point of contention within Syria’s opposition groups).
However they might not have much time to synchronize before the next bomb goes off.