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Syrian Opposition Attempts to Unite Amidst Growing Chaos

The U.S.-supported move has some success, but questions remain going forward.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

November 18, 2012 - 11:29 pm
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A large swath of northern Syria has now been ceded to the rebellion. The rebels are in the process of mopping up isolated pockets of government resistance in this area. In the last two weeks, the regime abandoned an important stronghold in Saraqeb and narrowly fought off by aerial attacks a rebel attack on the strategic air base at Taftanaz.

The regime’s problem is that it simply can no longer muster a sufficient number of loyal men willing to fight on behalf of its cause. Its increasing reliance on air power and artillery in recent months has shown this.

The growing engagement of non-Syrian fighters — from the Islamist Lebanese Hezballah and Iraqi Sadrist movement — and the ceding of areas of the northeast to Kurdish control also testify to it.

Assad’s airmen and gunners can wreak a heavy toll among rebels and civilians. They can cause the rush of refugees across the Syrian-Turkish border that may shortly lead to a humanitarian crisis in that area.

But they cannot turn the tide in favor of the government, which is narrowing its lines of engagement in order to make more effective use of the ground troops available to it.

In the latest sign of the direction of events, the fighting is now approaching the capital city of Damascus. Street battles are taking place just outside the city limits. Even formerly well-guarded areas of residence of regime officials such as Mazzeh and Kafr Soussa are being subjected to mortar fire.

The center of the city remains under the guard of the loyalist Fourth Armored Division of Maher Assad. Residents are hoarding food supplies in anticipation of the crisis ahead. The area is filled with checkpoints and military positions.

But as all this takes place, the rebellion within Syria is still fractious, disunited, subject to internecine violence, and increasingly notable for the presence of extremist jihadi fighters. Islamist and secular rebel elements have already clashed inside the rebel-held zones of the north, at the Bab-al Salameh border crossing earlier this month.

It remains doubtful as to whether the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces can by itself alter this situation. What is needed is closer Western involvement and supervision of the rebellion within the country. This will enable the identification of powerful and deserving elements who can then receive the appropriate aid to finally bring the bloody reign of Bashar Assad to an end.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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