Nabeel Khoury writes: Aleppo has fallen to Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, battered by unrelenting Russian bombardment and surrounded by Shiite militias from Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. The Syrian regime is poised to reap the rewards of this regional and international onslaught. The rebels’ goal of ousting President Al-Assad has now become virtually impossible, at least in the near term. To be sure, there are further battles to be fought in Syrian territory still beyond the reach of the regime. Idlib is likely the next battlefront, but one can already project an empowered Syria-Iran-Russia axis planning the next steps ahead.
Toward the end of 2012, when Syrian rebel resistance to Al-Assad was gaining in strength and pressing hard against the regime’s bastions in Damascus and Latakia, the regime’s military strategy, no doubt recommended by Iran and Hezbollah, was to secure a line of defense around Syria’s major urban centers that would stretch from the Turkish border in the north to the Jordanian border in the south. Hezbollah started the process by besieging and taking the town of Qusayr in the summer of 2013.
This was a strategic turnaround for the regime, the significance of which the Barack Obama administration completely missed. By not intervening or helping the opposition hold on to Qusayr, the United States allowed the regime to stop arms smuggling to the rebels via Tripoli and the Lebanese border. Qusayr also helped consolidate a defensive line between Latakia and Damascus, allowing the regime to protect its core areas. The three years that followed saw the regime further strengthening its defenses along the Lebanese borders guaranteeing free movement for Hezbollah in and out of Syria. [Continue reading…]