Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hezbollah's Plan B?

While Assad is under pressure and he needs his few friends more than ever to survive, is Hezbollah's operations between the Lebanon border and Damascus more about establishing a buffer zone inside Syria more than propping up Assad's rule in Syria?

Hezbollah's forces are (again) making gains in the Qalamoun Mountains region west of Damascus:

Hezbollah's chief said Saturday his Shiite movement had expelled Syrian opposition fighters from most of Syria's Qalamun region bordering Lebanon but the battle was not over.

Hezbollah's role is huge at this point and Assad doesn't try to hide it:

[For] Syria's increasingly embattled president, Hezbollah's help is more critical than ever.

In the last week, the Iranian-backed guerrilla group has unleashed its powerful arsenal to drive insurgents from wide areas of the Qalamoun mountain range, a short drive from Assad's seat of power in Damascus.

But with Iran'a financing and the crucial role of Hezbollah in spearheading attacks, is this offensive really designed to save Assad?

Or is Iran directing Hezbollah to prepare for the defeat of Assad and a possible retreat by Assad's forces away from Damascus that he may not have the troops to hold at the expense of his Alawite and coastal home base?

Hezbollah is up front about why they are fighting so hard there:

"Our goal in Qalamun is to protect Lebanon, and we've seen the evidence of the threat in Arsal and the other attacks on the border," a Hezbollah military commander said.

What is unclear is whether Hezbollah believes that keeping Assad in power is the key to protecting their position in Lebanon or whether they are simply looking to their own interests. If Assad can benefit from having Hezbollah control this region--great. But if not? Too bad for him?

Assad certainly isn't doing too well. If Assad wants to hold on to Idlib province, he needs to do something different than just losing ground:

Rebels including Al-Qaeda's local affiliate seized the Syrian regime's largest remaining military base in northwestern Idlib province on Tuesday, a monitor said. ...

The loss of Al-Mastumah base leaves only a few positions in regime hands in Idlib, a region that borders Turkey and neighbours the government stronghold of Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast.

This effort to create a buffer zone to protect their home turf inside Lebanon would also be easier for Hezbollah to justify as their casualties cause supporters (and recruits) back in Lebanon to question why they are fighting and dying for Assad by killing other Arabs while Israel remains at peace.

In related news, Turkey shot down one of Assad's fighters a couple days ago when it entered Turkish air space.

If Syria goes belly up, given our failure to support more acceptable rebels, I don't know who other than the Turks could commit enough troops to try to stabilize the place and deny ISIL or jihadis control of Damascus when Assad attempts the Big Contraction to a Alawite-dominated rump Syria.