Monday, June 08, 2015

Down for the Count?

Assad has been on the ropes before, but was rescued by our failure to help rebels and by Russian and Iranian help to prop up the Syrian economy, rebuild his ground forces, and keep his air force flying. Who saves Assad as he goes down again?

It is looking bad for Assad:

"Based on current trend lines, it is time to start thinking about a post-Assad Syria," argues a U.S. intelligence official. Until recently, American analysts had characterized the situation there as more of a stalemate. But over the last month, rebel gains in northern and southern Syria have begun to tip the balance.

I recently noted that the recent strings of defeat seemed to be a real change finally making the heavy attrition Assad's forces have been enduring a problem. The math looks bad for the Syrian army but doesn't indicate when Assad's forces could break.

The initial article notes that Assad looked down before but recovered. But Russia and Iran aren't likely to be the source of a rejuvenated Assad combat ability, as things stand right now. Money is tight.

And Assad's supporters who can are starting to think of escape options.

Clearly, the recent trend lines are bad for Assad. Assad may be counting on President Obama to save him. Assad wants America to intervene on his side by concluding Assad is the lesser of many evils in Syria; and hopes a faux nuclear deal with Iran will release mullah financial resources to double down on Assad's survival.

There is one other option for Assad. The last time Assad's trend lines were in the losing direction--but before Russian and Iranian help revived Assad's fortunes--I wondered if Russia would commit ground troops in a symbolic move to bolster the morale of Assad's ground forces to hold a core or rump Syria in the far west that preserves a Russian base in Syria.

Would Putin gamble on such an option, seeing it as "sticking it" to the West in revenge for his Ukraine problems?

Although it is possible that Assad's forces have suffered so much that no new promises of a "light at the end of the tunnel"--even if President Obama throws a lifeline--will prevent Assad's supporters that it is "every clan for itself" time.

UPDATE: the generally more acceptable rebels of the Southern Front are attacking a Syrian base northeast of Deraa:

Syrian rebels attacked a major army base in the south of the country on Tuesday, seeking to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad after his recent losses elsewhere in Syria.

This region is too far south for Assad to hold for long.

UPDATE: Rebels took the base. And an air base is under threat (even if claims it is captured are premature):

Issam al-Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front alliance of rebel groups, said al-Thala air base in Sweida province had been "liberated".

ISIL cut off the flow of energy to Damascus from the east:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS blew up the pipeline near the T-4 military airport in the east of central Homs province shortly after midnight.

"This pipeline was used to carry gas into the suburbs of Damascus and Homs to generate electricity and provide heating in individual homes," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

If memory serves me, Syrian cash went to ISIL to keep energy flowing. If ISIL is willing to cut off the supplies rather than profit from them, what changed? It may be that ISIL sees the accelerating regime defeats as indicating that the end game for Assad is near.

Russia and Iran may feel that way, too:

Russia and Iran are both reconsidering their support for the Assad government. Despite the mess Russia has got itself into with Ukraine, Russian diplomats still have better contacts in the West and the Middle East and are now trying to negotiate a Russian-Iranian supervised peaceful political settlement of the Syrian civil war. The goal here is to prevent ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) from conquering the country.

Getting rid of Assad doesn't mean ending Alawite rule in the west, however. Since Iran is pushing more of their Shia foreign legion into Syria and since both have reason to want friends to run western Syria (access to Lebanon, for Iran; and access to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, for Russia), expect these two foes to push for an Assad regime without Assad.

And note updated casualty figures:

Since 2011 the fighting in Syria has killed about 230,000. Some 30 percent of the dead are civilians while 21 percent are Syrian security forces, 14 percent pro-government irregulars (local militias and foreign volunteers) and 35 percent various rebel factions (many killed fighting other rebels).

That's 69,000 dead civilians; 48,000 Syrian security troops; 32,000 irregulars, including the Shia foreign legion (and including Hezbollah?); and 80,000 rebels.

UPDATE: The Syrians claim to have regained control of that air base under threat noted above:

Syrian army troops regained full control of an airbase in southern Sweida province on Friday, a day after rebels overran large parts of it, a monitor said.

Also note that the rebel claim of success was largely accurate, even if the rebels couldn't hold the base.