Sunday 22 April 2018

Mary Dejevsky: We reached a tipping point in Damascus this week ... all we can do now is watch and hope

Rebels seized control of sections of Syria's international borders and torched the main police headquarters in the heart of old Damascus
Rebels seized control of sections of Syria's international borders and torched the main police headquarters in the heart of old Damascus
Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with Fahd Jassem al-Freij, Syria's new Defense Minister, in Damascus

WHATEVER happened at the national security building in Damascus this week – something so cataclysmic that even the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad had to admit the loss of three members of its inner circle – it altered the balance of forces in Syria at a stroke. It prompted devil-may-care jubilation from sections of the opposition and a new tone of defensive flag-waving from the leadership.

It is that tone, quite as much as the attack on such an inner sanctum itself, that shows there can be no going back. And as the US defence secretary warned of Syria "spinning out of control", the Russian foreign minister spoke of a "decisive battle", and international news organisations modified their heading from "violence" to "civil war", it was clear that outside perceptions, too, had changed. All right, perhaps one opposition agent just struck lucky. It is not unheard of for luck to change the course of history.

If the situation was perilous before, however, it is many times more perilous now. Before Wednesday, it was possible to believe that there was time: time for the Russians to sign up to international sanctions; time for Assad to accept the inevitable; time for a fractious UN to cobble together some sort of political transition. But as the UN Secretary General called on Security Council members to "shoulder their responsibility and take... action with a sense of urgency", his unmistakeable meaning was that time was running out. Syria had reached its tipping point.

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