The battles in Damascus City represent a serious escalation on part of rebel groups. In time, the regime will lose control of certain outlaying neighborhoods, such as Al-Qaboun, Al-Tadamon, Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Al-Qadam and the Yarmouk Camp, but it will remain entrenched in the center for a while, and will use massive fire power to wreak havoc on rebel-held areas. In short, we are heading towards an Aleppo-style stand-off in Damascus.
It was pomegranate season when the battle for Wadi Deif began in mid-October. Like so many rebel offensives, the fight for the Syrian military base, just east of the devastated city of Maaret Numan and one of the last major loyalist outposts in the vast northern province of Idlib, soon sputtered for the usual reasons — the rebels’ lack of coordination, lack of ammunition and heavy weapons and the strength of regime reinforcements backed by airpower and artillery…
On Wednesday, the push to take it was forcefully renewed, but unlike previous offensives here and elsewhere that tend to be disorganized, poorly-coordinated actions by a few brigades, this phase of the battle has been carefully planned over many weeks. It is not an isolated fight but part of a wider strategy, codenamed Marakit il Bina il Marsoos, or The Battle of Reinforced Structures, to open all of the remaining fronts in Idlib province at around the same time — Wadi Deif, the Karmid Checkpoint, the Mastoomeh Checkpoint, the Abu Duhoor military airport, and the smaller checkpoints associated with these outposts — before rebels turn their full attention to the regime forces concentrated in Idlib city, the provincial capital, and the city of Jisr al-Shughour, the two key urban areas still in the regime’s firm grip. If the rebels succeed, they will have created the first “liberated” province in Syria, an area completely free of regime forces and a de-facto “safe zone” — without direct international help.
The offensive is overseen by a council of religious clerics, a Sharia court led by Jabhat al-Nusra, the militant group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S but widely respected by rebels for its disciplined fighting prowess. The court has knitted together dozens of groups from across Idlib province, extracting a sworn pledge from each brigade leader that he will work with the other groups under the direction of the court and will not compete with his counterparts for any ghanaim, or spoils of war, from the outposts if they fall.
It’s not the first time Jabhat al-Nusra has taken the organizational lead in a fight in Idlib. In coordination with the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham brigades, it shepherded the final two-week phase in the months-long battle for the strategically important Taftanaz military airport that fell to the rebels in mid-January. The participation of other groups in those final stages of the fight was only at Jabhat’s invitation. Jabhat al-Nusra also established a committee that first itemized and then distributed the war spoils. Still, the sheer scale of Marakit il Bina il Marsoos, its multiple fronts, and the pledges to the Sharia court mark it as a new battlefield experiment the rebels hope will be emulated by others if it is successful.
In Syria, if the rebels were going to achieve a decisive military victory, they would have done so by now. The real options left there are quite narrow. The Alawites, the religious minority loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, are also not likely to achieve a military victory. Even if they were able to defeat the rebels, it would be a temporary lull. Instead, leaders in Damascus could offer amnesty to the rebels to initiate negotiations for a formal cease-fire, which would include international monitoring and peacekeeping troops. That would create the space to begin a slow, deliberate process of formal mediation that addresses all of the major conflict issues. Mediation ought to involve third parties and all the major factions of the opposition. Of peace agreements that have met those conditions, less than five have failed in the last 25 years.
The goal of prolonged mediation should be a final agreement, built upon previous ones, in which inclusiveness and broad institutional reforms are the goal. Civil war data and current conflict trends predict that the Syrian conflict will end in a negotiated settlement. The only choice is whether it will be soon, leaving Syria largely intact, or later, when even more of the country is in ruins.
Putting the foolishness of the first sentence aside (for no one provided the rebels with the kind of support that could help them achieve military victory), from an academic standpoint, the above assertions make excellent sense, but getting us from here to where such a plan could be implemented, requires much work, including empowering certain rebel groups and neutralizing Assad’s airpower. For so long as Jabhat Al-Nusra and its affiliates are currently in charge of leading offensives in Aleppo, Al-Raqqah, Deir Ezzor and Idlib, among other areas, and so long as Assad remains capable of wreaking havoc on rebel strongholds, no international monitors, no peacekeeping troops, no dialogue and no process are possible. Si vis pacem para bellum. Mr. Panetta seems to have understood this, while President Obama continues to mull things over.
A leaked video shows pro-Assad soldiers dancing to Usher’s “Yeah!” during a lull in ongoing clashes in the town of Basr Al-Harir in Daraa Province http://youtu.be/bRfTnWhgBW8 The lull was short-lived, clashes soon resumed
The pounding of the Daraa City continues http://youtu.be/ZsF_xoQxy-s , http://youtu.be/nu9NTuHXPz0 , http://youtu.be/GRLDXQBbBcU
Clashes in Damascus City continue: The pounding begins at dawn http://youtu.be/-VPL6DJ9Eg4 Rebels pound a checkpoint in Jobar http://youtu.be/a1V6cR6FDOg Loyalists respond with mortars, tanks and MiGs http://youtu.be/nstKhrepEgE , http://youtu.be/NSEAI4kd83o Loyalists are trying to regain control of the Harmaleh checkpoint along the southern ring highway http://youtu.be/2MbLYVGeH44 But rebels push back and manage to destroy some of the attacking tanks http://youtu.be/DiifnWXp9UI Scenes from yesterday’s battle that allowed rebels to take control of the Harmala Checkpoint http://youtu.be/NPv7wTiQt9k
Pro-Assad militias in action in Qaboun http://youtu.be/sZgXSYms6nw , http://youtu.be/2LS_0QKRXd8 Al-Qadam neighborhood was also pounded http://youtu.be/uMp6FvMz7t0 With more rebels coming to take part in defending it http://youtu.be/NHeHKfTQ3ig Clashes in Al-Qadam train station continue http://youtu.be/fqKpdIcWI0Y The pounding of Eastern Ghoutah with MiGs continues http://youtu.be/_6s8zfaJ-Vo
In the Northeast, the pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues http://youtu.be/WaJ1BiT1aME , http://youtu.be/8O-jUsYp2UM , http://youtu.be/2perpWEJvE8 But rebels try to fight back using improvised missiles http://youtu.be/LlhXYkS16Tc
In Raqqa, major clashes took place in the town of Tabaqa, with helicopter taking part in pounding rebel positions http://youtu.be/7wdJnS55K3w Rebels try to take down the helicopter http://youtu.be/CXjGKcDeiOo Rebels take control of an attacking tank http://youtu.be/ssfa0HCMgIM Sounds of clashes http://youtu.be/Bo3HSJTxf30 Rebels mange to take control of the Alam Checkpoint http://youtu.be/rPYKET9zzmw , http://youtu.be/Dh0A3WlDO6g