U.S. intel: Syrian regime could survive 2012 thanks to backing from China, Russia, Iran

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that
a fragmented opposition and powerful foreign support could sustain the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout 2012.

Officials said the assessment took into account the strong military, intelligence and financial
support the Damascus regime has received from China, Iran and Russia.

U.S.Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (center) and CIA Director David Petraeus (right) appear with FBI Director Robert Mueller (left) before a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington on Jan. 31. /AFP

The U.S. intelligence assessment has determined that Assad faced increasing resistance to his regime by Sunni fighters and thousands of deserters. But the assessment concluded that Assad’s military and security forces were sufficiently powerful to ensure regime survival for at least the next year.

“It could be a long time,” National Intelligence Director James Clapper said. “The opposition appears fragmented.”

The intelligence assessment, issued at a hearing of the Senate
Intelligence Committee on Jan. 31, marked the first high-level assertion by Washington that the Assad regime remained resilient.

“Both the regime and the opposition are determined to prevail, and neither side appears willing to compromise on the key issue of President Bashar Al Assad remaining in power,” Clapper said.

Officials said the Assad regime appeared far stronger and less isolated
than that of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi, killed in October. They said
unlike Gadhafi, Assad’s military and security forces were being bolstered
by thousands of Iranian-financed fighters, particularly Hizbullah and
Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

“They are expanding great efforts, in terms of resources and advice, in
terms of propping up the Assad regime,” Clapper said.

At the same time, Russia has stepped up weapons deliveries to the Assad
regime. Officials cited such major platforms as the Iskander-E long-range
rocket and Bastion coastal defense system, both meant to stop any attack
from neighboring Turkey.

CIA director David Petraeus said the rebels were growing stronger and
controlling areas of Syria. Petraeus said the rebels have been operating in
the suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus, the two largest cities in the Arab

“The initiation of offensive operations by Bashar Assad’s regime to try
to push them out of the suburbs has met very stiff resistance,” Petraeus
said, “and has shown indeed how substantial the opposition to the regime is
and how it is, in fact, growing, and how increasing areas are becoming
beyond the reach of the regime’s security forces.”

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