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Rebels Advance on Alawite Heartland as Butcher Assad's Momentum Slows

The fog of war is thick over Syria, but one piece of news emerging from that fog could be significant: rebel forces are moving towards the Alawite heartland in the mountains of northwestern Syria.

“Forces comprising 10 mainly Islamist brigades, including two al Qaeda-linked groups, advanced south to the outskirts of the Alawite village of Aramo, 20 km (12 miles) from Qardaha, taking advantage of rugged terrain,” opposition activists told Reuters. “On Sunday rebel fighters captured half a dozen villages on the northern tip of the Alawite Mountain,” the Reuters report continues, “located east of the port city of Latakia. The area is the main recruiting ground for Assad’s core praetorian guard units comprising the Republican Guards, Fourth Division and special forces.”

Though this is not the first time rebel groups have appeared around Alawite towns in northwest Syria, it might be the strongest force to make a concerted intrusion since the beginning of the civil war. Government forces are at a disadvantage in the rough mountainous terrain, where tanks and other heavy equipment cannot easily go. And the blow to the morale of government forces all across the country could be severe; rebel forces are nearing the region from which many of the government’s soldiers come, putting their homes and families at risk.

We don’t think this will be a game changer, but it could force government to move more of its forces away from battlefronts where it has been making gains. That could ease the pressure on rebel groups in the rest of the country and slow Assad’s momentum. All of this suggests that somewhere in the rebel leadership is a serious military mind at work.

What we don’t know is whether aid from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other sources is flowing in fast enough to make a difference on the ground in the rest of the country—and how effective the aid and training for Syrian government forces from Iran and Russia have been.

We’ve seen the momentum swing from government to rebels and back in the past year of war. At this point, it looks to be a war of attrition: can one side gain and hold enough arms and weapons to beat back the other? To some degree that comes down to a question of backers. The side with the most serious patrons is likely to win this war. At the moment, things still don’t look good for the rebels.

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  • wigwag

    It seems to me that what we are witnessing in Syria is a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Everyone else, including the United States which is merely playing lip service to the conflict, and Russia, which is more passionate about the outcome but still not a central player, doesn’t matter nearly as much.

    We are witnessing two simultaneous civil wars in the Middle East; a hot war between Sunni and Shia and a Cold War between Sunnis allied with Saudi Arabia (the Gulf States, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Egyptian liberals, nationalists and military types, Lebanese Christians and non-Shia Muslims, Sunni Iraqis) and Sunnis allied with Turkey (Hamas, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt).

    In the civil war between Sunnis, Saudi Arabia is winning and Turkey is losing although the outcome in places like Libya and Tunisia is still in doubt.

    It is easy for Westerners to be smug about all of this; we shouldn’t be. The American Civil War was only 150 years ago. The two most recent European Civil Wars (The Great War and World War II) concluded less than 70 years ago. Both the American and European civil wars were far more bloody than anything we are seeing in the Middle East.

    • Laurence Levin

      So Far

    • gwvanderleun

      Dear Wigwag, Learn the tune and lyrics to “What A Difference a Day Makes”

    • rheddles

      A more apropos comparison in many respects would be to the Thirty Years War which was even worse than WWII for the middle Europe in which it was fought.

  • gwvanderleun

    One might want to contemplate the deeper meaning of ” opposition activists told Reuters. “

  • mc

    Momentum never really shifted in the regime’s favor. What has happened since the spring is:
    1. Hizbullah’s direct intervention, providing a temporary but limited boost, the effectiveness of which is declining.
    2. The regime letting in more western reporters and keeping them on a short leash. These reporters have little access to rebel viewpoints, don’t speak Arabic, lack the experience to assess military issues, and are in most cases painfully naive. They identify culturally with the Syrian elite’s faux cosmopolitanism and leftism. They are easy prey to experienced propagandists.
    3. The incompetence, mendacity, and arrogance of policy-makers in the White House and their enablers like Dempsey. Nothing they’ve tried has worked or could work, yet they’ve insisted on dominating the international response. In predicting an Asad victory they’re hoping they won’t be held to account.

    • bpuharic

      RE point 3…when HAVE we managed the formlessness of a revolution? The right has NO solution for this problem, save another failed exercise in ‘nation building’. But bash Obama? Why not!

      Total mindlessness

      • mc

        I’m not sure the right has an answer to your question. I’m certain the left doesn’t. The White House thought it could micromanage its way to a peace conference that would make them look good. They’ve made the worst of all possible outcomes much more likely and now are hoping nobody will notice. While they’re trying to run out the clock, the clock–and the world’s goodwill–has run out on them.

        • bpuharic

          Gee. The Tunisian revolution happened 2 years ago. Already you’re seeing 20 years into the future. Remarkable vision you have there.

          • mc

            Sorry, your first comment was reasonable, but the second is just abuse. Do you have a specific question or criticism that relates to something I wrote about the issue at hand? Happy to respond, if so.

          • bpuharic

            How can you POSSIBLY know that the WH has made the ‘worst’ of all possible outcomes. I understand the fetish on the right with Obama bashing. It’s a sport like any other. But, my claim stands

            How can you see 20 years in the future to know that Obama has made the ‘worst’ (sic) decisions?

          • mc

            The WH has not ensured that anything will happen, but in my judgment it has made the following more likely: the destabilization of Syria’s neighbors, the fragmentation of the country into mutually hostile regions, one ruled by al-Qa’ida and all possessing chem and bio weapons, ethnic cleansing, the preservation of Iran’s and Hizbullah’s influence, and a negative preoccupation on the part of Israel with its border security. These are precisely what the west hopes to prevent but American incompetence has made more likely, if not certain. If you sensed a certain reluctance to back the WH on this issue its because I’m closer to a Syrian Marxist than to an American rightist. The demons you appear to be wrestling with are wholly imaginary, I assure you.

          • bpuharic

            The little Dutch boy solution won’t work. The region is a poisonous brew of 60 years of repressive dictatorships, religious fanaticism, corruption and institutional collapse. Pretending that Obama could, somehow, wave the magic wand of American beneficence and all would be well is delusional.

            The American right is certainly delusional. Part of its delusion is that every problematical international situation is Obama’s fault.

          • mc

            You seem to think I’m arguing for US intervention. What I’d like to see is for the US to get out of the way. A small number of people in the WH have convinced themselves that their judgment is superior to that of Syria’s neighbors and progressive Syrians themselves. They’ve prevented Turkey and our Arab allies from arming our Syrian friends sufficiently. The result is what we see: moderates marginalized, al-Qa’ida, Russia, Hizbullah, and Iran empowered, and massive suffering.

          • bpuharic

            Anybody believe there are ‘moderates’ in the Arab world?

            Bueller? Bueller?

          • Tom

            The worst of all possible outcomes? Hyperbole.
            However, a choice between a Syria allied with Iran or a Syria controlled by radical Sunnis is not an outcome that is in America’s interests.
            Whether Obama could have prevented this is an open question. However, the lack of American action in Syria meant that this was going to happen.
            And before you start ranting about Iraq, we could have probably avoided the current probable outcome by backing more moderate rebel groups in the early stages of the revolt with arms and medical supplies.
            There is room between “doing nothing” and “send in the Marines.”

          • bpuharic

            And with 800 rebel groups in Syria…many of them without military training…and the most highly trained rebels being Al Qaida

            what, exactly, was your successful solution to the ‘failed’ solution Obama’s chosen of recognizing the limitations of the situation, and keeping us out of a toxic brew?

          • Tom

            That there are 800 rebel groups in Syria would seem to indicate some diversity, no? Perhaps some people who we could have backed.
            The Al-Qaeda boys didn;t show up for months–months we could have used.
            As of now, we shouldn’t be sending anything to Syria. Of course, now that the extremists on both sides have taken over, this is the time when Obama starts sending stuff.
            Give me a break.

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