Time reports: Throughout the bloody Syrian conflict, the ruling regime of President Bashar Assad has derided the armed opposition for its reliance on foreign fighters, usually seasoned militants that come from the battlefields of Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq. But as a new campaign is set to start in the mountainous corridor between Damascus and the Lebanese border, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government is just as dependent on outsiders for success. In Qalamoun, a strategic region that has been in rebel hands for most of the war, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hizballah is preparing to take on rebels in a drawn-out fight that could dictate the outcome of the Syrian conflict.
The government’s plan to wrest Qalamoun from rebel hands has been long in the planning, an obvious extension of June’s successful campaign to take, with Hizballah’s help, the town of Qusayr, a key rebel stronghold just north of Qalamoun. In regaining Qalamoun, the regime hopes to secure a vital corridor linking Damascus to the coastal province of Latakia, home to the Mediterranean port of Tartous and inhabited by Assad’s Alawite sect. The rebels depend on Qalamoun’s shared border with Lebanon to smuggle in supplies and weapons from supporters in Lebanon. “If the regime takes Qalamoun, it could cause a lot of damage to rebel groups,” says Phillip Smyth, a research fellow at the University of Maryland who specializes in Hizballah and Shi‘ite militias in Syria. [Continue reading…]