The Christian Science Monitor reports that Lebanese arms merchants are noticing a huge spike in prices, which they attribute to vastly increased demand for black market weapons in Syria. Mohammed Rahhal, a leader of the Revolutionary Council of the Syrian Coordination Committees (one of many opposition groups), last week bluntly told the pan-Arab newspaper Ash Sharq al-Awsat, "We made the decision to arm the revolution, which will turn violent very soon, because what we are being subjected to today is a global conspiracy that can only be faced by an armed uprising." According to David Ignatius, "a newly emboldened Saudi Arabia has been pumping money to Sunni fighters in Syria."
The most important factor pushing Syria in the direction of civil conflict may be that the Assad regime has left the opposition few other options for anything resembling success. The largely nonviolent protests have brought nothing in the way of serious reform or to weaken the regime's grip on power. The protest movement, as it is presently structured, does not seem capable of either. If anything, the regime seems to have consistently worsened its behavior. With the opposition basing its strategy primarily on embarrassing the regime and increasing international pressure, rhetoric, and sanctions, the nonviolent tactic has been almost all pain with very little gain. At some point, other options will have to be considered -- or the fight against Assad abandoned.
The battle lines are already drawn in Syria, and they are largely sectarian
The Tunisian and Egyptian models are not being repeated in Syria. In both of those cases, elements within the power structures decided that regime decapitation (taking out the top-level leadership but retaining the overall structure), managed reform, and a transition led under implicit pact with the protesters were preferable to risking complete downfall. Neither the Syrian political elite nor the most well-armed and well-trained professional soldiers, most of which come from the minority religious Alawite sect of which Assad is the leader, have demonstrated any interest in such a process.
The ouster of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya would seem to present a second model for regime change in the Arab uprisings. In Syria, such an approach may or may not be applicable, wise, or even practicable. The Libyan model essentially reduces to a four-stage process:
1) Establish a viable, armed rebel fighting force, base of operations, and rival government and capital in some part of the country. (In Syria, one can imagine this emerging in Hama, Homs, or Deraa, to name three possibilities.)
2) Appeal for international support in weapons, training, financing, and possibly even air support or other arm's-length military intervention;
3) Chip away at the power of the regime in a relentless war of attrition using these resources;