walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Here Come the Syrian Rebels

Syria’s rebels are still on the move after impressive victories against regime forces over the past few weeks (rebel brigades overran the Syrian Army’s 46th Regiment outside Aleppo, scoring valuable heavy weapons, crates of ammunition, and tanks in the process). Yesterday, two regime air force bases fell to rebel brigades, and in separate incidents a military helicopter and a fixed-wing fighter jet were shot down outside Aleppo, presumably by rebels equipped with surface-to-air missiles. This morning, two car bombs exploded in a regime-friendly neighborhood in Damascus, killing at least 34.

Capturing the air force bases and shooting down the helicopter and fighter jet were important military advances for the rebels; the car bombs in Damascus were not. The neighborhood where the bombs went off is a Druze and Christian neighborhood, communities that are generally supportive of Assad. The dead, according to early reports, were civilians.

“Is this the freedom which they [the rebels] want?” Ibtissam Nseir, a teacher, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene of the attacks. “It is an area packed with rush-hour passengers,” said another bystander. “God will not forgive the criminal perpetrators.”

Suicide car bombs targeting civilians in pro-Assad neighborhoods in Damascus and other cities have periodically exploded during this war. Terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra usually take the credit. So far there have been no claims of responsibility for today’s attack.

Rebel victories against regime military targets, as opposed to terrorist car bombs, suggest the opposition fighters are becoming stronger and more capable. They have many powerful new weapons in their arsenal: tanks, long-range artillery, surface-to-air missile launchers, lots of ammunition. They are successfully attacking their enemies’ most useful tools: fighter jets and helicopters. They continue to capture more territory, cities, and towns in the north and east.

But Assad and his loyal soldiers won’t give up; they’ll hunker down, draw the fight out, make this more miserable for everyone. Barring a total meltdown on either side, this won’t be over soon, and it still looks like getting worse before it gets better.

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