Sunday, January 26, 2014

Is Aleppo a Vital Assad Objective?

I recently noted that I'm sometimes perplexed at Stratfor conclusions. But I also noted that they offer a valuable analysis. So I can't dismiss them or assume they are wrong. Here's a good analysis of the geography of Syria that affects the civil war.

I made a similar type of analysis here. Assad appears to have done what I said he needed to do.

I don't know why the geography precludes Balkanization of the state, as Stratfor writes. Even if the ethnic and religious boundaries don't allow for clean breaks, ugly and bloody breaks are certainly possible. The history of Yugoslavia after that state fragmented showed that.

What I found most interesting is the discussion of Aleppo.

I felt Aleppo was too remote and too large for Assad's forces to absorb. It was a bridge too far, I wrote.

Stratfor says Aleppo is a vital part of any state based on Damascus ("Core Syria" as I called it):

While Aleppo has historically been vulnerable to dominant Anatolian powers and can use its relative distance to rebel against Damascus from time to time, it remains a vital economic hub for any Damascene power.

That certainly explains the reason Assad is sacrificing so much to try and take and hole the city and the region around it.

They also write that the use of ceasefires around Aleppo is for the purpose of "using a respite in the fighting to conserve its resources and make the delivery of food supplies to Aleppo contingent on rebel cooperation with the regime." I was dismissive of Aleppo ceasefire talk that Secretary of State Kerry mouthed.

Yet I have my doubts that the Alawites can generate the military manpower to wage a long war against the majority. Even Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion paid for by Iran only provides the spearheads for assaults. They don't provide significant numbers of troops.

Yes, retreating to secure and hold some smaller portion of Syria is the first step to reconquering all of Syria. But the security force casualties have been immense so far. How could Assad's loyalists keep this up long enough to rule all of Syria?

At some point, if Assad finds he can't hold Damascus and the terrain that links Damascus to his Alawite homeland, might not Assad move the capital of Syria to the heart of his loyalist terrain?

And if Assad abandons Damascus, is it even important to hold Aleppo any more? Especially if new offshore energy resources are brought to the market, is Aleppo vital to a Rump Syria dominated by Alawites that has territory stretching from the coast inland to the main north-south highway, from Homs in the south to the Idlib region in the north?

If geopolitics means that a Syrian government must fight for Aleppo, doesn't it follow that a political entity that calls itself "Syria" but which does not try to be a Damascene power does not need to hold Aleppo?

But then we could watch whoever controls Damascus try to control Aleppo and the lines of communication between the cities.