Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In For Quite the Pound

Iran is deeply involved in propping up Assad. Apparently, worries about "owning" Syria by intervening are a feature and not a bug. Nor are the Iranians worried about "tainting" Assad by supporting him so heavily.

The monetary side of the backing is impressive:

"An agreement was signed (on Monday) in Tehran... by the Iranian and Syrian central banks, granting Syria a credit line worth $3.6 billion," it reported.

The deal stipulates that Syria will pay back the cost of the oil loan "through Iranian investments of various kinds in Syria", said SANA.

I wonder what kind of assets is Syria selling to Iran?

That financial backing is crucial for a poor state to pay for war amidst the loss of income from losing control of most of the country.

With Syria's ground forces crippled by losses, desertions, and morale problems, Iran has made the biggest contribution on the battlefield by organizing a Shia Foreign Legion to provide shock troops to lead advances against rebels. This force is more than just Hezbollah:

The Iranian mercenaries have made all the difference for the government forces. Iran has been recruiting Shia gunmen in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere for the last few months and providing transportation to Syria, weapons when they arrive and regular pay. The Iranians also encourage Shia men from around the world to come join the fight against Sunni radicalism (which often results in terror attacks on Shia civilians). More than 10,000 of these Iranian mercenaries have given the Assad forces armed fanatics to match the Islamic radicals among the rebels who have often been a key element on the battlefield.

Rebel victory is no longer imminent, says Strategypage. Fair enough. By shrinking his realm and expanding his ground forces with an influx of militias and these foreign legions, Assad has been able to counter-attack and make gains within a smaller campaign area.

While Assad has stabilized his Core Syria from the coast and down past Damascus, his counter-offensive has not knocked out the rebels. And our efforts to train, organize, and arm rebels is finally starting to kick in. The rebels can even hope that NATO will intervene, led by American forces, to hit Assad's forces. Nailing down Greek support for our use of naval facilities in Crete--on top of British efforts to ready Cyprus for a crisis--can't hurt our efforts there.

So while the rebels have been knocked back, they aren't knocked out. What has been the attrition for Assad's forces over the summer, especially in the new militias? Assad's air power is wearing out, leaving the war to ground forces.

The rebels will adapt as Assad's offensive peters out. Assad might even be tempted to expand his realm in the belief that he is on a roll, over-extending his ground forces in a premature effort to start the reconquest of all of Syria.

If not for Iranian and Russian backing, rebels might really be hammering a desperate Assad by now. Perhaps they even would have won by now. But Iran is trying to win, untainted by notions of "owning" Syria, "tainting" the government, or even the "futility" of a military solution. You have to at least admire a side that simplistically believes in winning a war.

As Western and Arab support for the rebels gears up, the momentum of the war may shift back to the rebels in the fall if the government's forces are tired and stretched enough from their current counter-offensives.

UPDATE: Rebels struck back:

Rebels sent a wave of rockets slamming into regime strongholds in the central city of Homs on Thursday, triggering a succession of massive explosions in a weapons depot that killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens, an opposition group and residents said.

The attack — one of the most potent against pro-government districts in the area — overshadowed a rare trip by President Bashar Assad to a former opposition bastion outside the capital, Damascus, during which he defiantly vowed in front of troops to defeat the rebels fighting to topple him.

Assad seized the initiative to make some gains over the rebels. But Assad did no knock the rebels out. The rebels will adapt and the fight will go on. Can Assad expand his ground forces while enduring heavy casualties? Is a Shia Foreign Legion an adequate substitute?