A Turning Point In Syria?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 18 2012 @ 12:56pm

This morning a bombing reportedly killed Syria’s defense minister and Assad’s brother-in-law. David Kenner summarizes what we know:

There are competing accounts of who was killed in the bombing, and how it was carried out. The Free Syrian Army has said the device was planted in the room and detonated by remote control, while Syrian state media declared that it was a suicide bombing. The officials reported dead as of this writing are Assad’s brother-in-law and deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim, and former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani. There could be more — many details of the attack are still unconfirmed, and could remain that way for some time.

Hussein Ibish underscores the importance of the event:

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which this will be both a practical blow to the regime’s campaign by removing key figures and an enormous psychological and symbolic catastrophe for the Assad dictatorship. It is reported that the bomber was a trusted security officer, possibly even from Assad’s own bodyguard. The message is clear: no one is safe and nowhere is inaccessible to the rebels.

James Blitz makes roughly the same point:

The regime will argue that the attacks are the product of al-Qaeda based terrorism. But many Assad loyalists will be stunned that the central command centres of the regime could have been penetrated by regime opponents. Defections from the Assad regime have been much slower than we saw in Libya, mainly because of the violent retribution that the regime pledges against the families of those who defect. But after Wednesday’s attack, many Assad loyalists may feel they have nothing to lose. According to Reuters news agency, there were more signs of this overnight with two brigadier generals among 600 Syrians who fled to Turkey.

Jeffery Goldberg isn’t celebrating:

[W]e should remember that suicide bombing is a leading indicator of societal collapse. And, as Max Boot points out in a perceptive post, this attack is perhaps a sign of direct involvement by al Qaeda, or an al Qaeda-affiliated group. I don’t think we should start labeling Sunni extremists of the al Qaeda type “martyrs.” We extolled similar men in the 1980s in Afghanistan, and we wound-up regretting that bout of glorification as well. Today’s suicide bombers, just like yesterday’s Afghan mujahideen, are all thrust, no vector; I don’t think it is unfair to speculate that the men who organized today’s suicide bombing will not one day organize a similar bombing against a Western target.

Mackey is live-blogging.