Hassan Hassan writes: The string of military gains by the anti-government forces in Syria since mid-December continues to reveal the Assad regime’s profound weaknesses. The problem for the regime is not that it has lost a series of well-fortified garrisons but that each defeat was swift, taking anywhere between just a few hours and a couple of days.
The fall of Idlib province last month and the rebel takeover of the key Brigade 52 base in Deraa in southwestern Syria last week have revealed the military’s fragility. The Brigade 52 takeover was particularly telling because the attackers were nationalist forces, not radical groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra or ISIL, which usually overcome army defences by means of squads of suicide bombers.
The rebels’ advances in Hama and Idlib and especially the seizure of Jisr Al Shughour city in Idlib province on April 25 are very significant. They leave the regime’s Alawite heartlands in the coastal region exposed to the rebel onslaught for the first time since the start of the conflict.
Unsurprisingly, the regime has downplayed the significance of some of these gains, while Iranian general Qassem Suleimani vowed an imminent “surprise” in Syria two weeks ago. But the situation seems to be going from bad to worse for the regime. Recent losses have come where it hurts most: its support base.
Since the conflict began, Bashar Al Assad astutely ensured that Syria’s religious minorities remained loyal. But with the regime’s consistent and significant losses, protests from sections of these minorities are becoming hard to overlook or downplay. [Continue reading…]