In midweek Robert Fisk and Amer Taheri, two leading interpreters of the Middle East scene, contributed articles on Syria to The Independent and The Times respectively in which they found echoes of earlier conflicts. For Taheri the battle in Syria is now akin to the Spanish Civil War when two sides armed and supported by foreign powers clashed over two rival sets of ideas.
For Fisk, observing the brutality of the sectarian fighting and the abuse of civilians, the comparison was with the Balkan wars of the 1990s. For concerned observers of Syria over the past eighteen months the problem has been to get any clear picture of what has been happening in the face of claim and counter-claim by both the Assad government and the rebels. On Wednesday, however, the scene changed. In a single explosion Assad lost four of the eight generals and ministers closest to him. Those who carried out the attack infiltrated the National Security Headquarters, one of the most secure buildings in the country. Suddenly Assad's vulnerability became very clear and predictions that his days are numbered seemed viable. The complexities of UN resolutions, of Kofi Annan's peace plan and Russia's stubbornness, were reduced to the imminent fate of a single man whose misrule of his country may be about to end, leaving an extremely dangerous vacuum behind him.