William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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IN SYRIA – AT 9:27 A.M. ET:  The main concern is that Assad will, as a last-ditch measure, use chemical weapons against his own people, or launch an irrational attack on a neighboring country, like Israel or Turkey.  The concern grows as the opposition – the vague term for an ideologically diverse group of fighters – seems to be making substantial gains.  From CNN:

Syrian rebels in Damascus say they are more organized, better armed with heavy weaponry, and ready to "cleanse Syria" of government forces, Free Syrian Army spokesman Abu Qutada told CNN.

He said the rebels have "started the ending battle" of the war.

"We are conducting significant military operation inside the capital Damascus, this is a new stage," Abu Qutada said Wednesday via Skype from the Damascus suburbs. "This is the decisive stage of our fight."

And, international support for the rebels' cause appears to be increasing. NATO recently approved sending Patriot missiles to Turkey, which supports the rebels. France and other pivotal European countries have said they also back the movement against al-Assad.

Those opposed to al-Assad -- including the United States -- have said for months that the Syrian leader's days are numbered. Now, there are signs of desperation:

Al-Assad is reportedly considering his asylum options, despite insisting that he will "live and die in Syria." He is also reportedly considering using chemical weapons on his own people.

And the Syrian government has been blamed for temporarily shutting down Internet service in the country last week, an alleged attempt to thwart rebel communication.

So, with key rebel advances in the north and signs of desperation in Damascus, many observers believe the end is in sight for Syria's 21-month-old brutal civil war.

The regime is clinging to the capital, Damascus, as rebels chip away at the military, according to regional analysts. And the rebels don't have the clout to go toe-to-toe with the government in the center of Damascus, according to senior analyst Joseph Holliday.

"It (the Syrian rebellion) will not be able to overthrow the Assad regime for the foreseeable future," wrote Holliday of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

But, he said, that doesn't mean a certain victory for al-Assad's forces.

"The regime does not have the forces required to hold all of Syria, and its control is steadily eroding across the country."

COMMENT:  It's day by day, and we really don't know who we'll get if Assad falls.  We could be looking at a replay of Iran, in the 1970s, where one dictator is replaced by someone who turns out to be worse.  Stand by.

December 7, 2012