GUEST POST: Where Syria could be heading
by Shami Witness • Nov 12, 2013 at 5:15 pm
It's the general assumption in MENA that it's only the US and some of it's western allies that seem to have latched on to the idea of a negotiated settlement with Assad i.e him staying and effectively killing off the armed uprising.
It's not entirely true.
Arab regimes like Jordan,Egypt, UAE and others actively want an end to the "jihad" in Syria. Jordan termed moderate rebels Taliban long before emergence of powerful jihadi factions that can control territory on their own. KSA policy circles are more divided, some want anyhow Assad to be removed, some want to "hold back for now" coz of the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq & Sham(ISIS) , and yet some who want Iran to continue to "bleed" in Syria, not enough for jihadis to gain superiority across the country, but enough to paralyze Iran economically,albeit that will take years. The latter two categories are ascendant.
At the same time, with the fall of Morsi ,Turkey - KSA relations have gone from bad to worse. Then you find Turkey cozying up with Iran over "sectarianism concerns" in the conflict (Duh, as if that's new) , bilateral trade certain to go up to almost 30 billion dollar in the current year ,even in face of international sanctions .Then Turkey cozies up with staunch Iranian ally Maliki . These are not happening in a vacuum.
The Egypt coup effectively broke up the anti-Iran alliance over Syria. That was a turning point .
There are Turkish officials who fear KSA might try to back something of a coup in Turkey too, so they are hedging their bets. No wonder they are taking advantage of new found US tolerance of Iran. Also added to the fact Erdogan is probably also trying to calm ever growing anger among the large Alevi ,Kemalist populations in the country who are generally pro-Assad. He is probably at his most controversial point in all his rule,few lesser enemies abroad won't hurt.
When you combine all of this, you get the following:
1.No effective weapons supplies through either the Turkish or Jordanian lines.
2.Increased intrigue by even private pro-KSA regime donors to whip up anti-jihadi hysteria among more moderate factions & tribes,leading to frequent intra-rebel clashes.
3.A heightened psyops campaign against jihadis, with a disproportionate focus on ISIS.
4.As a result , rapid regime advance in Aleppo and Damascus like never before.
5.Because jihadis are stretched thin, they lose key points in Hasakah province to the Syrian affiliate of PKK, PYD.
It can get worse.
Problem is, Assad regime victories have a cascading effect on both local and global scale :
locally,some rebel brigades that dumped Assad previously because he was going very weak ,have now reason to switch sides again. This has already happened in both Aleppo and Damascus.(A FSA group jumped to the Assad side leading to fall of Brigade 80 in Aleppo ,& Sbeineh in Damascus).
Globally, it gives far more strength to US-Russia arguments that there has to be a negotiated settlement with Assad , no matter how many thousands of children he rapes and kills. KSA regime might show displeasure as much as it wants, but at the end of the day, their entire existence as a regime, is ensured only by staying under the US security umbrella .
At some point in future, if the Assad regime continues to make advancements like this, expect KSA rhetoric to change gradually.
Emergence of ISIS
Now people like to blame ISIS for this advance of the regime,blaming them for the weakening of other FSA factions, as if factions like Northern Storm or Ahfad were playing any significant role near the frontlines currently facing the most setbacks.
But something did change with the emergence of ISIS.
It wasn't that KSA was exactly comfortable with Jabhat an Nusra's presence inside Syria. But because they were willing to use much less global jihadi rhetoric ( direct national security threat), they were willing to finish it off after Assad gets toppled. Jabhat an Nusra , for the sake of pragmatism , albeit only for a short duration , were willing to work within Sykes-Picot borders and the Westphalian system.
ISIS was not.
They are the most explicitly clear, no-pretense group when it comes to declaration of goals in this conflict. And they dared challenge the status quo borders openly. This was not acceptable to the Gulf rulers.
For many in GCC ruling circles, Assad's toppling can wait, not that of ISIS.
The efforts continue.
Now even with such successes that the regime has achieved, it shouldn't be overlooked that ever since the elimination of much of the Crisis Cell , it's Iran and it's proxy militias that are effectively running the Assad war machine. All of regime's recent successes owe to the Hezbollah, Liwa abu Fadl al Abbas and other Lebanese , Iraqi Shia miltias that Iran has brought.
This gives them a distinct problem.
These are occupation forces that can win battlefield victories, but have a tough time to actually hold territory, as is needed for Assad to claim that he is exerting authority. Given Assad has killed so many , and so brutally , and so widely all across the country, there are not much Sunni(overwhelming majority in Syria) families, at least at this point, that will cooperate willingly with the regime to reestablish a semblance of the type of control he once had.
Here lies the crucial difference why Assad Sr succeeded In Hama 82. He was able to contain the uprising. Many Sunnis didn't care , and continued to cooperate with the regime, for simply because they faced none of the wrath that the people of Hama faced.
That is why unification of rebel military commands and joint sharia court to solve their disputes, if not the entire organizations, needed.
Also important is to prioritize. In swathes of areas across Hama to Homs to Damascus, rebels are simply not in a position to hold territory. Storming raid, assassinations, and raids of weapons depots should take priority.
Obviously the ground commanders know better.
But there are factors that can dramatically upend everybody's calculations
For example, a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran's reactors can totally put Assad war machine in a state of shock.US will be forced to fall in line . Basically anything that harms Iran effectively, either a rogue state missile attack, an asteroid, a tsunami or anything, anything weakening Iran can paralyze their war machine in Syria.
Also would be a surprise blow to Hezbollah if jihadis are finally able to open the Lebanon front. Much attempts towards that.