A grenade attack targeting the Damascus headquarters of the Syrian Baath party is just one more indication that the armed resistance to Assad's rule is rising and that the chances of a full scale civil war are growing by the week.
While the opposition in Syria is becoming an armed resistance, any outside military intervention would be pitted against a "really modern air force," said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"They know how to use their surface-to-air missiles," and can draw on an experienced army with thousands of tanks, Cordesman said. "Talking about a casual use of force, something like the no-fly zone we had inside Libya, simply isn't tenable."
The eight-month revolt against Assad's rule has begun to splinter the army, squeeze the economy and weaken support among erstwhile backers. Jordan's King Abdullah has said that Assad should step down. In the past week, defectors launched a rocket- propelled grenade assault on a military security building in Damascus.
Syria's people, not Assad's government, are suffering from international sanctions imposed because of the crackdown on protests, central bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said. While the Syrian pound is trading within a reasonable range, Syrians should avoid speculation in the currency that would put their assets at risk, he said on state television today.
Assad said military action against Syria would create an "earthquake" across the Middle East.
My article at FrontPage.com games out some scenarios that are disturbingly coming close to reality:
This has been the nightmare of the secularists in the opposition since the uprising began; that the boiling kettle of differing sects and religions in Syria might overflow and turn into a conflict - not to get rid of Assad, but to kill their religious enemies. This is evident in the city of Homs where the small Alawite community has been carrying out tit-for-tat murders of Sunnis who have been returning the favor.
The violence is close to being out of control as many residents of both Islamic sects fear for their lives if they venture outdoors. One resident told the New York Times that "There are shabeeha on both sides now" - referring to the black clad militia that is the spearhead of Assad's crackdown on civilians. The Times describes a harrowing situation, with "beheadings, rival gangs carrying out tit-for-tat kidnappings, minorities fleeing for their native villages, and taxi drivers too fearful of drive-by shootings to ply the streets." Both sides blame the government for encouraging the sectarian violence, but the bitter rivals hardly need a push from anyone to kill each other.
This is what a real civil war in Syria could look like: minorities like the Christians, the Druze, the Shias, and the small but dominant Alawite sect, fearing a Sunni takeover (Sunnis make up 75% of the population), would largely look to Assad's regime to protect them, while some of those minorities and the Sunnis would seek to overthrow the regime. The conflict would quickly degenerate into a bloodbath similar to what was witnessed in Iraq during the violence after Saddam's overthrow.
This scenario is becoming more likely because of the inability of the Syrian National Council to agree on an agenda that would lead to Assad's departure. The more the opposition dithers and is unable to unite the various factions, including the groups of young people who have been on the front lines of the revolt, the less likely it is that sectarian tensions can be kept under wraps.
There is also the question of maintaining a peaceful character to the revolution. Most of the younger activists don't want anything to do with the Free Syrian Army while the SNC wants to maintain an arms length relationship with the defectors. The SNC argues that embracing the FSA will make it harder for other soldiers to defect. "[T]he others [soldiers] in the army are our sons too," said one SNC member.
Turkey is entertaining a formal request from Syrian opposition groups to intervene militarily by creating a buffer zone or safe haven for civilians inside Syria itself. Such an action would be tantamount to a declaration of war so it's hard to see Prime Minister Erdogan actually going through with such a plan. But if UN and Arab League backing were forthcoming for such a move, it might be a plan of last resort if Assad continues to slaighter his own people.