Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Backs to the Sea

While Russia has intervened to save Assad, I doubt Russia can save Syria.

As I've long speculated, this article raises the possibility that Assad may need to abandon Damascus and retreat to the northwest corner of Syria:

Russia's plan is to help forces loyal to Assad hold and reinforce the Alawite enclave in the coastal and mountainous north-west, Syria-watchers say.

If Assad were pushed out of Damascus and the capital fell either to Islamic State or other Islamist rebels, Russia and the Syrian government's allies such as Iran and Hezbollah will have dug him a well-fortified fallback position in Latakia.

I think this might have worked years ago when I first suggested Assad needed to retreat to a Core Syria in an arc in western Syria from the Turkish border to Israel and Jordan.

Later, I doubted if he had the troops to hold even that, and wondered if he would transfer his capital to the coast and retreat to a Rump Syria in the northwest.

But after such heavy casualties in his security forces the last 3-plus years that have decimated his army (and air force) and left him reliant on militias, Hezbollah, and a Shia foreign legion organized by Iran, I don't think he can hold if pressed.

Who will fight for Assad to the bitter end? It just seems like it is too late to save Assad on the battlefield without large-scale intervention by someone.

And losing the capital will be traumatic. Will Russians on the ground and threats to use chemical weapons hold off his enemies who see him retreat so dramatically?

The Shia foreign legion isn't large enough. Hezbollah is already shaky after the casualties it has taken. Russia hardly wants to commit significant ground forces to combat duties. And the militias just aren't very good.

Of course, if we cooperate to save Assad for Russia rather than let Russia flail, Russia's actions will look brilliant rather than desperate.

But as all the lottery commercials say, you can't win if you don't play. Russia is willing to play.