The attack on the Assad leadership is an important success for the rebels, says German Mideast expert Volker Perthes. But he warns that it will lead to an intensification of the fighting in Syria.
DW: The attack on the leadership of the Assad regime, which amongst others killed the defense minister and a brother-in-law of President Basher Assad, came as a surprise. Are the rebels getting stronger?
Volker Perthes: In recent days, there's been somewhat of a distancing from the core of the regime. That's something we haven't seen during the entire one-and-a-half years of the revolution. Observers have been saying from the very beginning that the regime is finished, but the regime itself has not yet realized this, or didn't want to realize it.
Before today's attack, a number of close Assad aides stepped down. How do you see this development?
It's true that until very recently we didn't have any high-ranking diplomats stepping down. There also have not been any resignations of high-ranking officers. But that seems to have changed in recent days.
From the inner circle, Manaf Tlass, a close friend of Assad, has stepped down. Tlass' father had been defense minister under Bashar's father, Hafiz Assad. Now, Tlass has turned his back on the regime and declared he's willing to help set up a new government. The Syrian ambassador to Iraq has also switched sides. This has left a large gap in the power structure, making today a day that's quite a symbolic victory for the rebels.
What will be the short-term consequences of Wednesday's attack?
Violence will certainly increase, on both sides. Until recently, the regime was convinced - and probably still is - that it would be able to contain the uprising with violence. And the rebels are getting more confident every day of a victory, and the successes of the recent days have reinforced this confidence. But that means that neither of the two sides will be willing to negotiate. For talks to succeed, at least one side – or better yet, both sides – must understand that there will only be one victor.
Does that mean that in the short term, the conflict will not be solved by politics?
With both sides confident of victory, the chances for a peaceful transition, a negotiated solution, are currently very limited. And both sides will not want Kofi Annan to claim victory, because this would mean that both sides would have to be willing to compromise and push through only parts of their agenda.
For the regime, that would mean giving up the presidency. And Assad would lose power without having found a way out for himself and his family. The rebels, on the other hand, would have to agree to work together with the regime against which they've been fighting from the start.
For some time now the war in Syria has taken on an international dimension, with both sides being backed by different foreign states. Did this support contribute to the rebels' success?
Of course, the outside support for the rebels has had an effect, in particular the support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This was first and foremost financial support. The money can be used very effectively; they can buy weapons in Lebanon or actually directly from their opponents, the regular Syrian army - and that's actually happening. It's just a matter of the price. If there's enough money on the table, some officers will agree to open a weapons depot.
With a rebel victory coming closer to a reality, do you think Assad has been listening to the wrong advisers?
Assad has the advisers that he himself selects. Partly, he inherited them from his father, and partly he chose them during his own 10-year long rule. But poor advice or a distorted perception of reality is only part of the problem. The more significant difficulty lies in the very power structure that Assad also inherited from his father.
After all, several times in the past he was able to find compromises with the civil opposition when they where calling for political reform. He very well could have created a smooth transition to a less authoritarian, more pluralistic system. But he regularly refused to do so because he knew that any substantial reforms would eventually undermine his own position at the helm of the government.
In light of recent developments, what do you make of the negotiation attempts by Kofi Annan? Do they still make sense?
Annan's intention to bring about a political solution is still the right one. The longer the civil war lasts and the more blood that is spilled, the more difficult it will be to bring society and state back together again. In addition, the chances of the state surviving are getting slimmer - and then we'll have fragmentation, a collapsing state. That is neither in the interest of the Syrians, nor of the neighboring states.
In that respect, Annan's mission is still valid – even though it gets less likely by the day that he'll succeed. Various suggestions have been put on the table, but no one was willing to listen. But one or two years later, they are now being realized in exactly that form.
Volker Perthes is a political analyst, Mideast expert and, since 2005, the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Interview: Kersten Knipp / ai
Editor: Martin Kuebler