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Another Turn of the Screw
Rebels Make Headway in Syria

The Syrian rebels secured an important victory Tuesday when they took over a key piece of coastal territory. The Mediterranean coast, where most of the country’s Alawite communities reside, has long been a stronghold for pro-Assad forces. The FT reports:

“We will try to use it to bring in supplies. It’s a rugged terrain and there should be places to bring things in,” said Tareq Abdelhaq, an activist who works with rebel groups in north-west Syria.

The recent gains are a psychological blow for Mr Assad’s supporters. On Sunday night rebels were even able to fire rockets into the port city of Latakia – a strategic regime stronghold. The larger move into the coastal province of Latakia will be fiercely contested by Mr Assad’s forces – who see the territory stretching from the capital up to the Mediterranean coast as critical for the president. […]

One activist, who asked not to be named, said Turkey was allowing rebels to move into the battlefields through its side of the border.

No one knows whether the rebels can hold their ground against Assad’s forces, even though they may be receiving help from Ankara. Last week, during a heated battle between rebels and pro-Assad forces, Turkey sent F-16s to shoot down a Syrian army jet that it claimed had violated Turkish airspace.

Turkey has a substantial Alevi minority that sympathizes with Syria’s Alawites and worries about Sunni triumphalism in Turkish politics, so it can’t support the rebels openly. But as the war moves into its third year, Ankara can’t continue to ignore the mayhem on the border.


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  • Andrew Allison

    I can’t help wondering whether, distasteful as the prospect of Assad remaining in power may be, this is good news on humanitarian grounds. Russia appears to have decided it wants Assad to remain in power and, given the impotence displayed by the West in Ukraine, will likely increase support. Meanwhile, the rebel forces are a breeding ground for radical Islamic fighters. Perhaps we should be more concerned with ending the war than who wins.

    • gabrielsyme

      Perhaps we should be more concerned with ending the war than who wins.

      Absolutely. Unfortunately, virtually all the possible outcomes were quite distasteful. Even if Assad had folded up shop and handed the keys over to the rebels at his first opportunity, the outcome would probably have been some combination of Egypt and Libya, with a lot more ethnic and religious minority communities for the victors to target. The likely outcomes of a rebel victory have only gotten worse as the war has dragged on.

      Hindsight is 20/20, but it increasingly looks like the wise policy would have been to have a consistent policy of supporting the previous order in the Middle East, condemning violent attempts to overthrow the government while using the unrest to press for increased civil rights in the affected countries. Aside from Tunisia, it is hard to locate a country that has emerged from an Arab Spring better off than it was going into it.

      It is my suspicion that American foreign policy thinkers have a deep-rooted instinct that violent revolution against “tyranny” is always a good thing. After all, that’s the way America came to be. And there’s no doubt that Gaddhafi, Mubarak, Assad et al were and are far worse than George III was, but that does not mean knee-jerk support for revolution is wise or even humane.

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