The biggest sign, which Foreign Policy’s Mitch Prothero calls “the equivalent of blowing up the Death Star,” is clearly the July 18 assassination bombing in Damascus that killed several key members of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, including Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani. The attack prompted “unrestrained glee” among Syria’s rebels, as it showed they had a much longer reach – into the heart of the Assad regime – than international observers had guessed.
The most significant death, writes the Monitor’s Nick Blanford, is probably Mr. Shawkat’s. While Mr. Rajha, a Christian, headed the defense ministry, Shawkat was Assad’s brother-in-law, a member of the Alawite sect that controls Syria, and a key enforcer for the regime. His death “suggests that no one in the regime is immune from the potential reach of the armed opposition, a grim fact that must send a shudder up the collective spine of the Syrian leadership.”