Pressure mounts on Syria's Assad after air base attack

By Anshel Pfeffer and Jessica Elgot, November 16, 2011
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Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

Dozens more people have died in continuing unrest in Syria, after the country was suspended by the Arab League last week.

In their most high - profile attack so far, Syrian rebels have attacked a major military base near Damascus. Reports say that the Air Force Intelligence building in Harasta, north of the capital, has been partially destroyed by the Free Syrian Army.

Israeli intelligence analysts are convinced that the Assad regime's days are numbered, but no-one can yet say by how long.

The decision by the Arab League on Saturday to suspend Syria's membership of the organisation, after the regime failed to abide by its promises to end violence against pro-democracy protesters, is being seen as yet another nail in the coffin of President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

The Arab League will meet today in Morocco to discuss unrest in Syria and ratify its decision to suspend the country. This is the most forceful decision taken by the League since the beginning of the "Arab Spring" in January against any of its members. An estimated 4,000 Syrians have been killed by the security forces since the protests broke out around the country in mid-March.

Seventy protesters were killed on Tuesday alone. International pressure on Damascus increased over the week as the European Union widened its sanctions and two neighbouring governments also severely condemned the regime.

King Abdullah of Jordan broke his usual diplomatic silence when he publicly called upon President Assad to resign and the Turkish government announced that it was suspending all joint oil and gas exploration with Syria.

Turkey is seen as a key player since it has given refuge to some 20 ,000 refugees who have fled north across the border.It is now the main backer of the Syrian opposition movements which are trying to create a buffer zone in northern Syria.

Israeli intelligence officials who are following events in Syria closely have reached a consensus that the regime in Damascus will be toppled sooner or later.

One IDF officer who has followed Syrian affairs for years is convinced that "Assad will be gone in a matter of weeks, he may not be president by the beginning of 2012. Too much has happened in recent months and he has irrevocably ruined relations with both his own people and with almost all the major power-players in the region save for Iran and Hizbollah."

Another veteran analyst was more cautious, saying that "Assad won't last another year but it could still take some months before he is actually forced out. The trend is irreversible but he is still showing no signs of wavering, and despite reports of 25 ,000 deserters from the Syrian army, we still have not detected a weakening of Assad's Allawite sect's control of the military and security forces. From their point of view, there is no alternative to holding on to power and they plan to fight to the death."

Sources in the Syrian opposition have predicted that at some change powerful members of the Allawite community will turn against Assad and try and cut a deal with the opposition to prevent internecine violence, but so far there has been so sign of this happening.

Iran this week reiterated its support for the current Syrian regime. Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission offered Tehran's full support to Syria , calling it the “main pillar of resistance against the US and the "Zionist regime's" policies in the region”, according to Fars news agency.

Last updated: 4:21pm, November 16 2011