What will Syria's generals do when Bashar al-Assad meets his Maker?
Despite his bravado, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered, and he knows it. The latest reports suggest that he's living on a warship in the Mediterranean Sea and that he's being protected by the Russians:
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family have been living on a warship located in the Mediterranean, with security provided by Russia, Saudi newspaper Al Watan has reported.
According to intelligence officials, the family and Assad's aides live on the ship and Assad travels to Syria by helicopter to attend official meetings and receptions.
Assad has lost confidence in his own security detail and lands at secret locations inside Syria from where he is transported to the presidential palace under heavy guard, the sources said.
Assad's presence on the warship suggests he has been granted political asylum by Russia but there has been no official comment from Moscow, Al Watan added.
According to Inyan Merkazi, Assad has given orders to his top generals to launch missiles against Israel and Egypt when he meets his demise:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered his military to launch ballistic missiles at Israel if he is killed, according to the Israeli online newspaper Inyan Merkazi.
The website reported that Assad met with his top generals recently to express concerns that he could be killed by advanced American missiles recently provided to rebel forces, or by a violent mob similar to the one that violently murdered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Should either of those scenarios become reality, Assad reportedly told the generals to unleash Syria's considerable missile arsenal on Israel and Egypt.
Assad's behavior provides a glimpse into his psyche. As Syria's leader living in the lap of luxury and attended by throngs of adoring sycophants, he would never have been foolish enough to put his lifestyle at risk by attacking Israel, much less Egypt, but if he's dead, he has nothing to lose. That's why he's willing to expose his people to inevitable retaliatory attacks.
That was Adolf Hitler's attitude in the closing days of World War II. Holed up like a rat in his bunker beneath the streets of Berlin, the führer continued giving orders that would have needlessly extended the suffering of his own people who were enduring the wrath of advancing Russian and U.S. troops a few meters above him at ground level. Fortunately for the German people, most of Hitler's generals were fleeing for their lives. They were too busy trying to find safe havens to pay any attention to the death wishes of a demonic mad man.
What will happen to the Syrian people? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know this: now is the time for President Obama to send a message to Assad's top generals. He should tell them that if they attack Israel or Egypt, they will be hunted down like Saddam Hussein and his henchmen and brought to justice. The president should close by saying that their fate is in their hands.
Will that stop the generals from following the orders of a tyrant who thinks that he's about to die? I don't know, but it's worth a try since Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will not sit idly by while his people and his cities are being attacked. My guess is that neither will Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi.
If Syria's generals are courageous and if they love their country, they will implement their version of Operation Valkerie and try to take Assad out before he can do any more damage. Will they? Again, I don't know, but if Assad can see the end, it's safe to assume that his generals can see it, too. They must realize that they will face tribunals when this saga ends. The more they do to limit with carnage, the better off they will be when that day finally comes. The destiny of Damascus and their own fates are in their hands.
Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.