Yesterday’s attack on the seat of power in Syria (which was not, as initially reported, a suicide attack but a remote-controlled bomb, which actually requires more pre-planning) has completely changed the dynamic in that country. Fighting continues in the neighborhoods surrounding Damascus, the capital, including in patches close to government buildings and the presidential palace. Residents can surely feel the difference between a regime in control and one that can face attacks at the highest levels at any time. The attack will probably lead to even less constraints by the regime, if that’s possible, on the use of deadly force.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said that the government assault had intensified, with more helicopters firing rockets that were igniting and destroying houses in Qaboun. It said that snipers were deployed around the exits of the neighborhood and that water and electricity had been cut off with numerous families trapped and no one able to excavate dead bodies from the rubble.

One activist reached in Damascus, using only the name Omar, said that the government had been asking residents of Tadamon and parts of Yarmouk, the capital’s southern neighborhoods, to leave their homes. That is usually a sign that government forces are on the verge of a violent attack.

Residents of Mezze and Kafr Sousseh, western neighborhoods even closer to the center of the city, fled unprompted because of the intensity of the shelling there, activists said.

Hopefully Assad does not resort to rumored chemical weapons stockpiles.

Another sign of the fear gripping the regime: Bashar al-Assad left Damascus, according to opposition sources, and camped in the coastal city of Latakia, though this could not be verified. Official sources maintain that he remains in the capital.

The situation shows all the hallmarks of a loss of control by the regime, as it descends into a bloody civil war. The US is planning for Assad’s exit, but that can only happen by force at this point. The idea that either side will negotiate a transfer of power now is wishful thinking. And Washington’s idea of “stability” sounds like a path to make the entire region less stable:

Pentagon officials were in talks with Israeli defense officials about whether Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, two administration official said. The administration is not advocating such an attack, the American officials said, because of the risk that it would give Mr. Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.

Yeah, involving Israel in the destruction of assets in any Arab country is a horrendous idea.

Juan Cole has a good discussion of the implications of the bombing. It’s all worth reading, but I thought this was particularly cogent:

The rocket-propelled grenades smuggled to the opposition by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as part of their proxy war against Iran, are allowing the rebels occasionally to kill tanks and take down helicopter gunships. The more such weapons they have, and the more sophisticated they are, the more they help level the playing field for the rebels.

That suggests that we’re already in the midst of a proxy war in Syria, the beginnings of a regional Sunni-Shia conflict. If that’s the case, then where Assad ends up in the coming months is of relatively minimal importance.