Friday, May 08, 2015

Does It Even Matter What Assad Wants at This Point?

Assad's hold on Syria--and even the capital--is looking very shaky. Iran doesn't need Assad to hold all of Syria to be a useful outpost for Iran.

More and more, Assad's hold on Syria seems to be weakening with even the ability to hold Damascus appearing beyond his capabilities for much longer.

Even a success of Assad's forces highlight his failure:

Syria's army cut the last main supply route for a rebel bastion east of Damascus Sunday, further tightening a crippling siege on the area, a monitor and state media said.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by government forces for nearly two years. In the capital suburbs!

And their success is tightening the blockade on the rebel-held area.

Yet Iran's requirements for Syria are limited, as that article notes:

The Iranians make no secret how important their alliance with Syria is. By providing a supply route to Hizbollah in Lebanon and bringing their forces face-to-face with Israeli troops on the Golan Heights, it elevates Iran from a peripheral power in the region to a central actor. The question now is whether this dream of power projection inevitably involves Mr Al Assad.

But Iran's choice isn't whether they can afford to dramatically ramp up support to enable Assad to control Syria, but whether Iran can get Assad to dramatically reduce the scope of his territory and still allow Iran to face Israel and supply Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I long figured that a core Syria had to extend to the Israeli border to keep access to Lebanon and to portray the role of "frontline" state against Israel.

Yet Iran doesn't need that Golan region--which Assad kept quiet--to have options to strike Israel as long as it can support Hezbollah. If Assad's realm only allows access for Iran to Lebanon, that's enough for Iran to keep supporting even a post-Syria Assad:

If Assad can't hold Damascus, he'll have to retreat to some enclave based around his Alawite core region in the west, plus whatever else he can hold for strategic depth inland. He also needs a reason to be worthy of support by Iran should Assad have to fall back. An overland route of supply to Hezbollah is that reason.

Will Iran push Assad to retreat to a rump Syria based in northwest Syria, perhaps shifting the capital to the coast to legally remain "Syria" no matter how much territory and people are abandoned, using the leverage of threatening to reduce support if Assad refuses?

Iran's role in Syria has expanded dramatically. Iran can make due with a far smaller Syria. Can Assad resist that kind of logic?

UPDATE: Assad is trying to rescue troops cut off with their families in the northwest:

Syrian government forces advanced Saturday towards the rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughur, where around 250 regime force members and their families are trapped in a hospital building, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops were now within two kilometres (just over a mile) of where the group has been trapped since rebels seized Jisr al-Shughur in northwestern Idlib province two weeks ago.

Failure might call into question the ability of Assad's forces to protect the Alawite home territory further south.