Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 08, 2013

Syria: Hizbullah's Involvement Is Limited

The offense of the Syrian army against the foreign insurgents continues:
The last rebel stronghold near the strategic town of Qusair, western Syria, has fallen to government forces, Syrian state TV says.

Eastern Bouweida village, which lies between Qusair and the restive city of Homs was captured by troops backed by militants from Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The Syrian army regained control of the town of Qusair on Wednesday after weeks of intense fighting with rebel forces.

The rebels have now lost a key supply route into neighbouring Lebanon.

 

The BBC map of areas held by the insurgents (blue) below still shows some of their pockets next to the eastern Lebanese borders. The next task is to turn these areas into government held red.

Hizbullah will be responsible for this task:

In the speech during which he announced the party’s involvement in the Syrian war, Nasrallah alluded to the direct objectives his party sought to achieve, and defined them as meant to put an end to the Syrian opposition’s military presence in three different areas: The Damascus’ countryside, which is home to the Sayyida Zaynab shrine; the Homs’ countryside, which includes the city of Qusair and surrounding villages; and the Qalamoun area, which includes the Zabadani region.
The Qalamoun area and Zabadani region is the still blue one just north of Damascus.

There is lots of talk by insurgency supporters of an alleged Hizbullah force near Aleppo. I for now doubt that such a force exists there. It makes little sense for Hizbullah to go there before the immediate tasks Nasrallah announced are achieved. The talk about the Aleppo force seems to be planted to exaggerate the Hizbullah "threat" in a renewed media campaign to get more weapons:

“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva,” Gen. Salim Idris said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in northern Syria. “There will be no Geneva.”
...
In the interview, however, General Idris said that the rebels remained woefully overmatched in firepower. During the recent fighting, he said, the Assad government has made liberal use of long-range artillery, tanks, surface-to-surface missiles and warplanes. In contrast, he added, rebel forces were relying on light weapons, including AK-47s, PKC machine guns, 120-millimeter mortars and RPG-7s, a type of rocket-propelled grenade.
...
The Assad government’s next target, he said, is Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, drawing on support from thousands of Hezbollah fighters, Iranian military operatives and Iraqi Shiite fighters.
(Btw - The ammunition for General Idris' 120mm mortars seem to come from Israel.)

The insurgency supporters suddenly have a lot of issues with "foreign fighters" in Syria. Are those Hizbullah soldiers who came just a month ago from Lebanon to fight near their border more "foreign" than those ten thousands who came over the last years from dozens of other countries to behead Syrian people and are still streaming in even while the original Syrian insurgency dies down?

Foreign Islamist extremists are streaming into Syria, apparently in response to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s more visible backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a development that analysts say is likely to lead to a major power struggle between foreign jihadists and Syrian rebels should the regime collapse.
...
On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition research center in London, posted a video from Aleppo on its Facebook that purportedly shows members of the Nusra Front, a fighting group manned in large part by non-Syrians, replacing a Syrian revolutionary flag with the black flag associated with their al Qaida-aligned movement. The Observatory noted that “local civil activists have voiced much anger as a result.”
...
Latest figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is generally regarded as the most authoritative recorder of Syrian casualty figures, showed that 2,219 foreigners have been killed fighting on the rebels’ behalf since the conflict began. That’s more than the 1,965 dead who were identified as defectors from the Syrian army.

“Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s involvement was considered a foreign interference,” Nasrallah scoffed in his speech last month.

There is new confirmation that Hizbullah will indeed, for now, not engage in Aleppo:
Hizbullah will suspend its military operations in Syria after securing the Damascus suburb of Zabadani “from which rockets are being fired on Shiite villages in Baalbek and Hermel,” the Central News Agency reported on Saturday.
...
“It is not in the party's interest to engage in a war in Syria's heart (against rebels) as the Syrian army is capable of winning it,” the sources added.
The Carnegie Middle East Center predicts:
If the strategic equilibrium that has emerged since November 2012 tips further, it will be a decisive shift in the regime’s favor. The political and military wings of the opposition must address their most serious shortcomings. If they do not, they will be in retreat, if not full flight, by the end of 2013.
I agree with that. But I do not agree with this conclusion:
The regime cannot win. But the opposition can lose.
Unless there is an outright U.S. intervention, for which there is no appetite, I believe, like the Hizbullah sources, that the Syrian army can win the battle for its country.

Posted by b on June 8, 2013 at 18:34 UTC | Permalink

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@83 You only need to look at Google Earth to see what needs to be done next.

First, the Syrian army needs to retake Homs, and Hezbollah needs to garrison the areas alongside the Bekaa Valley, and with that the government will have secured all of the coast (which was always its stronghold) and stopped any flow of arms from Lebanon.

At that point there is really only two supply routes left open to the rebels:
1) Up through Jordan via Daraa
2) South from Turkey via Aleppo

All other routes are in government hands (e.g. the coast, Lebanon/Syria border, the Jordanian border near Daraa), or else they involve a desert crossing (Syria/Iraq border, eastern border with Jordan, north-eastern border with Turkey).

That's why the next few moves will be Homs-then-Aleppo i.e. once Homs is gone then the Syrian Army can move in strength on Aleppo, and the rebels then have to ask themselves if they can afford to lose Aleppo and, with it, their last remaining supply route to the outside world.

They either stand and fight... and lose.
Or they cut and run.... and lose.

Posted by: Johnboy | Jun 11 2013 4:27 utc | 101

The NY Times is amusing, as Damascus masses troops to regain the half of Aleppo it doesn't control, which would be a death-knell for the opposition forces. The prospect of Geneva-2 has undoubtedly sharpened the SAA's focus in this regard.

NYTimes, Jun 11

Geneva Talks Hold the Only Key to Syria

It took almost a year for the Geneva communiqué on Syria of June 2012 to be dusted off and for diplomacy to be given another try. The agreement last month between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia to launch a new political process, Geneva II, marked an important opportunity. An opportunity that is already wilting under intense strain.

Yet after two years of destruction and 80,000 deaths, it is precisely such a bold and inclusive political approach, rather than military action, that still offers the best — and perhaps the only — chance of averting even greater suffering, radicalization and regional implosion.


Anyhow, it's distraction from arming the opposition.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Jun 11 2013 17:32 utc | 102

From Al Akhbar, interesting pressure from "Western" countries on Lebanon to speed up its Parliamentary elections, rather than opting to wait 18 months or more. The Western governments assume that a vote now would favor the March 14 coalition rather than Hezbollah's coalition and that this would influence the war in Syria. Since these are "Security Council members," they are likely France and Britain, but also possibly the US as well:

While members of the council insist that their decision will be strictly based on constitutional grounds, there’s no doubt that political and even sectarian considerations will come into play. Ultimately, the ten-member council will vote according to their political leanings.

There are a number of indications, however, that suggest that a third party wants to have a say in the matter, given its political and legal repercussions:

1) Inside sources suggest that several Western ambassadors – including some of countries that are UN Security Council members – are putting pressure on both the Constitutional Council and those political parties with influence over it to reject parliament’s extension. They want to see elections conducted as soon as possible.

Western officials believe that the expected March 14 election gains will send a clear message to Hezbollah that the Lebanese public does not approve of its military adventure in Syria.2) These ambassadors, along with higher level representatives from the same Western countries, have spared no effort to remind every Lebanese official they meet that elections must be held on time. Yet they have been frustrated to find that their pleas have been virtually ignored by most Lebanese politicians.

3) In private discussions, these Western diplomats have expressed their strong belief that elections would help improve the country’s internal instability and allow Lebanon to get out of its current crisis.

They calculate that elections are likely to produce a majority for March 14, which would take a much harder line on Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria than the current Najib Mikati government.

4) Western officials believe that the expected March 14 election gains will send a clear message to Hezbollah that the Lebanese public does not approve of its military adventure in Syria, which in turn would make the party’s “victory” in Qusayr ring hollow.

5) Western diplomatic sources were alarmed by news that the first draft proposal for parliament’s extension suggested renewal for two years. The logic behind this, according to those who supported such an extension, is that in two years Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s term would have ended and everyone would have a clear idea as to the direction of the crisis.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Jun 11 2013 18:16 utc | 103

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria is old news, but Israel's violations of Lebanese sovereignty are not, which may require Hez's military skills again.

news report:

An Israeli gunboat entered the Lebanese waters on Tuesday, triggering the army's forces to take the required defensive measures.

"An Israeli gunboat entered the Lebanese waters between 11:35 and 11:45 this morning near (the southern town of) al-Naqoura,” a communique released by the Amry Command said.

The statement noted that the marine forces “took the necessary defensive procedures.”

“The army's procedures were undertaken in cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.”

Israel's violations of Lebanese sovereignty are frequent, with warplanes often crossing into the country's airspace, some of which at low altitudes.

President Michel Suleiman had tasked on June 2 Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour with filing an urgent complaint with the U.N. over the Israeli warplanes crossing into Lebanese airspace.

These activities are considered a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, which allowed for a ceasefire that ended Israel's war with Hizbullah in 2006.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Jun 11 2013 18:47 utc | 104

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